Let's step away from swimming strokes, discussions of equipment and other learn to swim related material for a moment and look at the scarier side of swimming.

Not many of us realize this, but apart from drowning, it is possible to catch a disease or infection from your local swimming hole. And I am not talking about a foot fungus from the shower floor or the unwashed sauna.

Marina Salisbury, an experienced writer, and an avid swimmer, is here to enlighten us about the dangers that lurk in the dark depths of our swimming pools and open water spots.

Ok, that was a bit too dramatic as this article is not meant to scare you and by no means, keep you from pursuing this great sport, but it does not hurt to know what is out there to get you :).

Enter Marina:

Every summer, many people all around the world choose to spend their hot days splashing in the water. The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that swimming is the third most popular recreational activity in the United States; it is also the most popular recreational activity among children.

However, not everything is so hunky-dory.

All water-goers risk exposure to recreational water illnesses (RWI), which are caused by germs that live in contaminated water. These have been found in both man-made structures (such as swimming pools, hot tubs, and water parks) and outdoor areas (such as rivers, lakes and oceans).

Many swimmers assume that pools treated with chlorine and other chemicals are less likely to make them sick. Even though this is probably true, CDC still warns that certain diseases thrive in environments like this.

Cryptosporidium (or Crypto), which is considered the leading cause of pool-related diarrheal illness, will survive for days in even a well-maintained pool.

From 2004 to 2008, reported cases of this disease in the U.S. increased by 200 percent; some experts theorize the Crypto germs have developed a tolerance to chlorine over the years.

Dirty swimming pools can cause nasty infections
Dirty swimming pools can cause nasty infections

Another swimming pool risk is infectious liver disease, Hepatitis A.

This virus can contaminate pools if there is any sudden rise in the local raw sewage level—which can occur anywhere after a heavy rainstorm.

Though healthy chlorine levels will drastically reduce the risk of contamination, the CDC reported in 2010 that 1 in 8 public American pools was closed after failed chlorine level inspections.

Swimmer’s ear, also known as otitis externa according to the ICD-9 medical coding platform, is another infection, which can be obtained through swimming.

Though a high temperature is known to kill many forms of bacteria in water, hot tubs are no safer than swimming pools; in fact, EHA Consulting Group, Inc. reports that heat may break down chemicals in the water and hamper their ability to disinfect.

A common jacuzzi-related disease is Pseudomonas, which can produce a swimmer’s ear, as well as a skin rash commonly known as "hot tub folliculitis." Even healthy individuals are vulnerable to the rash, which resembles chickenpox.

Another potential threat to spa-goers is Norwalk Virus, which has been recently linked to several cruise ship outbreaks.

This disease can be transmitted via human contact in setting such as hot tubs and spas.

Naegleriasis and Acanthamoebiasis are free-living organisms that enter the human body through the nasal mucosa—and are known to cause corneal infections in hot tubs (especially for those who wear soft contact lenses).

Many diseases that have been linked to public pools have also been found in the wild.

One of these crossover diseases is Giardiasis, a protozoan infection with a notorious reputation among hikers.

The disease is typically transmitted through oral consumption of contaminated water, and infected individuals can experience severe abdominal cramps, frequent diarrhea and weight loss for as long as three weeks.

Giardiasis can be found in both stagnant and running water—so physicians warn outdoor enthusiasts to never drink from rivers.

Many miniature dangers await in open water
Many miniature dangers await in open water

What does this mean for swimming?

Try to eliminate getting water in your mouth, so take a breath well above the waterline.

Those who swim in areas adjacent to farms or agricultural facilities risk exposure to Leptospirosis, or Weir Fever.

The disease is typically transferred into the water via livestock waste; symptoms include fever, chills, jaundice and skin hemorrhages.

Finally, North American swimmers are susceptible to E. Coli, a disease-causing organism that is thought to cause 90 percent of the diarrhea-related hemolytic uremic syndrome, which causes renal failure and poses a particular risk to children.

E. Coli is spread through contaminated drinking and swimming water (many physicians urge people not to drink from fountains at public pools).

Those who travel worldwide are advised to take precautions in regard to swimming, especially in third world nations.

Schistosomiasis is a disease caused by parasitic snails, which enter the body either through the anal cavity or the urethra. Though these organisms have not been linked to any serious health problems in North America or Europe, they thrive in standing bodies of water located in tropical countries. Serious infection can lead to erosion of the digestive tract and colorectal cancer.

Another threat is Dracunculiasis, a worm that enters the human body as a larva, matures parasitically and eventually releases offspring once the infected individual enters the water again.

Today, this condition is only reported in 13 sub-Saharan African nations.

As a countless number of adults and children flock to the local public pools and swimming holes, they are encouraged to take a second look at their surroundings. If any unsanitary conditions are detected, then the swimming area should probably be avoided. Nobody wants to spend valuable summer days hunched over a toilet—or linked to an IV in the emergency room.

From Swimator Blog: So there you have it. There definitely are some scary things with big names in the water, aren't they? :)

While you think you are stroking your way to better health and condition, you might unknowingly contract one of the infections mentioned above and spend a few days or weeks squeezing it out :).

Even though, in my opinion, it is probably quite unlikely you will ever catch anything from the water you swim in, it is always good to understand the risks and as Marina pointed out, use your common sense when going out for a swim.

If you see a dead rat in your swimming pond, this might probably be a good sign to get it checked out or to hop for a swim into some other body of water.

As they say, what does not kill you only makes you stronger :), so get out there and appreciate every stroke, live life to the fullest and eat your dessert first. You never know what might happen.

This is a guest post by Marina Salsbury who planned on becoming a teacher since high school but found her way instead into online writing after college. She writes around the web about everything from education to exercise.

Swim Advice Topics

Swimming And Medical Infections (Dangers Of Dirty Water) is part of the following categories: Triathlon, Open Water Swimming, Guest Post, Water Safety

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Comments (1)

Unknown said...
We have a swimming pool that hasn't been treated with chlorine but eiwi regular clorox. Is this harmful to anyone swimming in it?

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