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FOR RELEASE: July 6, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Preventing Waterborne Illness at the Pool or Lake

As Oklahomans prepare for a hot weekend, state health officials caution that while swimming is fun and a great way to cool off, it is important to remember that some illnesses can be contracted from swimming in contaminated water. r.

Since 1998, four deaths have occurred among Oklahomans due to Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM). PAM, a type of meningitis that is almost always fatal, is caused when amoebae (one-celled organisms that live in fresh bodies of water) enter the nose. The organisms are present in greater numbers in shallow water during the warmer months. Fortunately, the risk of contracting PAM from swimming in Oklahoma lakes and streams is very low. Nationwide, outbreaks of Shigella (Minnesota) and Leptospirosis (Wisconsin and Illinois) associated with swimming in natural recreational waters have also been reported. The only sure way to avoid these diseases is to swim in a well-maintained swimming pool.

Yet, sometimes even swimming pools are not immune from waterborne illnesses. In 1999, an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 occurred at a water park in Marietta, Georgia. Eight children became ill (2 critically), after accidentally swallowing pool water contaminated by a child with diarrhea.

Health officials suggest Oklahomans observe these water safety tips during the holiday and throughout the summer: Tips to avoid illness:

  • NEVER swim in stagnant water, or water that looks “polluted.”
  • Take “No Swimming” signs seriously.
  • Avoid swallowing water when swimming in chlorinated pools or natural waters.
  • Use earplugs and swim goggles, or a mask, if you tend to get ear, or eye infections after swimming.
  • Keep wading pools clean and change the water daily, particularly when temperatures are high.
  • Avoid getting water into your nose when swimming in shallow waters, especially during periods of high temperatures.
  • NEVER allow a child to swim in a chlorinated pool or natural water source while ill with diarrhea – even while wearing disposable swim pants or plastic diaper covers.
  • Children with other illnesses (fever, vomiting, etc.) should also stay home.
  • NEVER drink, or cook with, untreated water from a natural water source.
  • Do not swim in ponds or lakes that are actively used by livestock.

Tips to avoid injury:

  • NEVER dive into shallow water, or water where the bottom is not visible.
  • NEVER use alcohol or drugs while swimming or boating.
  • NEVER leave children unattended near a water source for even SECONDS at a time.
  • NEVER swim alone, no matter how good a swimmer you are.
  • Limit time spent in the sun between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
  • Children and adults should use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher as per label directions.
  • Do not attempt to jump in and save a drowning victim unless certified in lifesaving.
  • Try to reach the victim with anything they can hold on to that can be used to pull them to shore.
  • Throw anything to the victim that will float and that can be hung on to until rescue is made.

Get out of the water and move well away from any water source before, or during, a thunderstorm of any size.

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