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For Release: May 13, 2010
Contact:  Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
(405) 271-5601

Recreational Water Illness Prevention Week, May 24-30
Keep Your Water Time Safe and Fun

The week before Memorial Day has been designated National Recreational Water Illness (RWI) Prevention Week, May 24-30, 2010. The goal of this week is to highlight the simple steps swimmers and pool operators can take to ensure a healthy and safe swimming experience for everyone, according to public health officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH).

RWIs are caused by germs spread by swallowing, breathing in the mists or aerosols of, or having contact with contaminated water from swimming pools, water parks, hot tubs, interactive fountains, water play areas, lakes, rivers, springs, ponds, or oceans.

Diarrhea is the most common RWI, and it is often caused by germs like Crypto (short for Cryptosporidium), Giardia, norovirus, Shigella, and E. coli O157:H7. Other common RWIs include skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and wound infections. Children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems are most at risk for RWIs.

“You can choose to swim healthy! Healthy swimming behaviors will help protect you and your kids from RWIs and help stop germs from getting in the pool in the first place,” said OSDH Acute Disease Service Chief Lauri Smithee.

Three steps that promote healthy swimming for all ages include:

  • Don't swim when you have diarrhea. You can spread germs in the water and make other people sick.
  • Don't swallow the pool water. Avoid getting water in your mouth.
  • Practice good hygiene. Shower with soap before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Germs on your body end up in the water.

Three healthy swimming steps for parents of young children include:

  • Take your kids on bathroom breaks or check diapers hourly or more often. Waiting to hear "I have to go" may mean that it's too late.
  • Change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area and not at poolside. Germs can spread in and around the pool.
  • Wash your child thoroughly (especially the rear end) with soap and water before swimming to help prevent invisible amounts of fecal matter from reaching the pool.

The OSDH Consumer Health Service licenses about 3,100 public bathing places and conducts about 10,000 inspections each year. “We also provide oversight and licensure for pool operators and those who oversee public water recreation areas,” said OSDH Consumer Protection Service Director Tressa Madden.

Madden recommends that pool operators be proactive and assure their pool staff learn about health and safety regulations. Training courses offered by Oklahoma’s county health departments can be found on the OSDH Web site by searching for “pool operator” at www.health.ok.gov.

Some safety and health tips for pool operators include: 

  • Educate swimmers and parents who use your pool by posting healthy swimming rules.
  • Post signage of health and safety rules in public areas before entry into the pool.
  • Maintain proper water quality chemical balances, pump and filtration equipment.
  • Evaluate hygiene of poolside restroom facilities and changing rooms.
  • Create policies for frequent bathroom breaks especially for young children and post where parents can see them before entering the children’s pool area.
  • Develop and train staff on an emergency response plan, so that in the event of an injury, drowning or a disease outbreak, staff will know the proper procedures.

Some major considerations for licensure include life safety and chemicals used to disinfect swimming pools, for example:

  • Levels of sanitizer in the water
  • Quality/Clarity of the water - for example, can you see the drain at the bottom of the pool?
  • Self closing gates for pools without a lifeguard in attendance

Some of the major differences between residential and commercial swimming pools are that residential pools have:

  • Less turnover on filtration systems
  • No safety equipment required
  • No inspector making sure the pool water quality is safe to swim in or that safety equipment is available

For more information about swimming pool and recreational water safety call the OSDH Consumer Protection Service at (405) 271-5243. For information about waterborne illnesses and diseases call the OSDH Acute Disease Service at (405) 271-4060. You can also check out these Web sites for more information: http://www.ok.gov/health/documents/Swimmers.pdf and http://www.cdc.gov/search.do?queryText=swimming+pool+safety&action=search 

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