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FOR RELEASE: May 25 , 2006
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

National Recreational Water Illness Prevention Week

The end of the school year and increasing outdoor temperatures signal the beginning of summer, sending many Oklahomans to their favorite swimming pool, lake, water park, or other recreational waters. The week preceding Memorial Day (May 22-29, 2006) has been designated as National Recreational Water Illness Prevention Week and the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) urges swimmers to adopt healthy swimming behaviors that will protect oneself, one’s family, and fellow swimmers from illness and injury.

Swimming in a well maintained swimming pool will reduce your likelihood of developing a recreational water illness (RWI) as many of the germs are killed by chlorine. However, chlorine doesn’t work right away, therefore, it takes time to kill the germs that cause RWIs. In fact, some of these germs are resistant to chlorine and can live in chlorinated pools for days.

The public’s awareness of RWIs and appropriate swimming behaviors plays a pivotal role in RWI transmission. Swimmers who are ill with diarrhea may contaminate swimming venues; this poses health risks for the healthy swimmers in the pool. In addition, high-risk groups such as the young, the elderly, the pregnant, and the immunosuppressed should also be advised about RWI prevention and healthy swimming behaviors.

Healthy swimming behaviors include the following:

  • Don’t swim when you have diarrhea. You can spread organisms in the water and make other people sick.
  • Don’t swallow the pool water. In fact, avoid getting water in your mouth.
  • Practice good hygiene. Shower before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Organisms on your body end up in the water.
  • Take children on bathroom breaks or change diapers often. Waiting to hear “I have to go” may mean that it’s too late.
  • Change diapers in a bathroom and not at poolside. Organisms can spread to surfaces and objects in and around the pool and spread illness.
  • Wash your child thoroughly (especially the rear end) with soap and water before swimming. Everyone has invisible amounts of fecal matter on their bottoms that end up in the pool.

This summer, the lakes across Oklahoma will be filled with people having fun and staying cool. It is important to remember lakes are not chlorinated and could pose a risk for an RWI including primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). PAM is a very rare, usually fatal disease caused by an ameba that flourishes in very warm surface waters such as lakes, ponds, and rivers. Warm water temperatures caused by the hot summer months allow the ameba to multiply. The risk may be greater in very warm and particularly shallow waters. PAM may be prevented by avoiding diving or dunking your head in warm, shallow bodies of fresh water. In addition, holding the nose shut or using nose clips will prevent the water from entering the nose.

Recreational water venues provide ample opportunities for people to increase their level of physical activity and enjoy their leisure time. The OSDH would like to encourage everyone to have a healthy, safe, and fun summer. For more information regarding Recreational Water Illness Prevention Week and healthy swimming, visit http://www.health.state.ok.us/program/cdd/index.html or http://www.cdc.gov/healthyswimming/index.htm.

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