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Editorial: Prevent water illnesses when swimming

With warm weather finally here, many of us are taking the opportunity to cool off in one of our area’s many lakes.

The Minnesota Department of Health is reminding people to swim healthy by taking steps to prevent recreational water illnesses.

The best way to prevent recreational water illnesses is to keep germs out of the water in the first place. Swimmers can take an active role in protecting themselves and other swimmers by following these simple steps for a healthy swimming experience:

Don’t swallow pool or lake water.

Practice good hygiene. Shower with soap before swimming.

Wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet or changing diapers.

Take children on bathroom breaks or change diapers often.

Change diapers in a bathroom, not at poolside or beachside.

Don’t swim when you have diarrhea.

In 2012, there were a record number of 11 recreational waterborne outbreaks in Minnesota, according to health department data. Minnesota’s 2012 waterborne outbreaks resulted in almost 200 documented illnesses. All but one of the 11 recreational waterborne outbreaks were in treated waters. So it’s clear that chlorinated water is no guarantee against being exposed to germs in the water. The best measure is for everyone to do their part to keep the germs out.

Also in 2012, investigators traced waterborne outbreaks to splash pads for the first time in Minnesota. There were two such outbreaks in the state.

Splash pads have become increasingly popular with pool operators as they offer a way for small children to cool off without having to know how to swim. People may not realize that although there is no standing water, the spray water will rinse any contaminants off of a person.

But because many splash pads recirculate the water they use, just like the larger pools, they still pose a health risk if illness-causing germs enter the system. That’s why it’s important to follow healthy swimming behaviors when using splash pads, too.

Nine of the outbreaks in 2012 were caused by Cryptosporidium, one of the most common waterborne disease agents. It is a chlorine-resistant parasite that can survive and be transmitted even in a properly maintained pool.

So practicing healthy swimming behaviors is especially important for preventing this illness. The most common symptom of recreational water illness is diarrhea, which frequently is severe enough to result in hospitalization. Symptoms may not begin until a week or more after swimming.

To report a suspected waterborne illness, call the Minnesota Department of Health Foodborne and Waterborne Illness Hotline at 1-877-FOODILL.