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Recreational Water Illness (RWI) Prevention Week

Swimming is the third most popular sports activity in the United States1. Although swimming is a physical activity that offers numerous health benefits, recreational water (for example, water in pools) can also spread germs that cause illness.

A child floating in a swimming pool.May 24–30, 2010, the week before Memorial Day, marks the sixth annual National Recreational Water Illness (RWI) Prevention Week. The goal of this observance is to highlight the simple steps pool operators and swimmers can take to prevent the spread of germs in recreational water. The germs that cause RWIs are spread by swallowing, breathing in the mists or aerosols from, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, water parks, hot tubs, interactive fountains, water play areas, ponds, lakes, springs, rivers, or oceans.

RWI Prevention Week 2010 Theme: Pool Inspections and the Triple A's of Healthy Swimming

This year's RWI Prevention Week focuses on pool inspections and encourages swimmers to take an active role in preventing the spread of germs that cause RWIs. To ensure a healthy swimming experience for everyone, operators of recreational water venues (for example, community pools) need to properly filter and disinfect the water. Pool inspectors check to make sure pool water and pool facilities meet standards that decrease the risk of RWIs, but they can't be at every pool every day. To help promote a healthy and safe swimming experience each time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is encouraging swimmers to take an active role in stopping the spread of germs by following the Triple A's of Healthy Swimming: Awareness, Action, and Advocacy.

Awareness

Action

  • Check pool water yourself using test strips purchased at your local hardware or pool supply store. CDC recommends the following water quality levels to kill germs:
    • free chlorine levels at 1–3 parts per million (ppm)
    • pH 7.2–7.8

*Free test strip kits can be ordered at www.healthypools.org/freeteststrips

  • Ask the pool operator these questions:
    • Are the free chlorine and pH levels checked at least twice a day and more often when the pool is heavily used?
    • What is the latest pool inspection score?
    • Has the operator completed specialized training in pool operation?

Two women swimming.Advocacy

  • Encourage pool operators to take steps known to kill germs:
    • Add ultraviolet or ozone technology to water treatment or
    • Hyperchlorinate (add additional chlorine to the pool) regularly
  • Educate other swimmers about RWIs and promote healthy swimming (see the "Steps for Healthy Swimming" listed below)

Learn more about the Triple A's of Healthy Swimming.

To learn more about pool inspections and common pool code violations, read CDC's report, "Violations Identified from Routine Swimming Pool Inspections --- Selected States and Counties, United States, 2008."

Keep Germs Out of the Pool

In addition to following the Triple A's of Healthy Swimming, the best way to prevent RWIs is to keep germs out of the pool in the first place. Everyone can help create healthy swimming experiences this summer by following the Steps for Healthy Swimming:

  • Don't swim when you have diarrhea.
  • A boy and girl in a swimming pool.Don't swallow pool water.
  • Practice good hygiene. Shower with soap before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.
  • Take your kids on bathroom breaks or check diapers often.
  • Change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area and not at poolside.
  • Wash your child thoroughly (especially the rear end) with soap and water before swimming.

Healthy Swimming Resources

To help get the message out about RWI prevention, CDC's Healthy Swimming Program has developed the following educational materials:

  • Healthy swimming brochures available in English and Spanish
  • New fact sheets on frequently asked RWI questions
  • Two videos, "In the Swim of Things" (3:52 minutes long) and "Healthy Swimming is No Accident" (30 seconds long), reminding swimmers to play it safe and stay out of the water when ill with diarrhea
  • Seven podcasts on preventing illness and injury while swimming

Two girlsFor in-depth information on healthy swimming, go to the Healthy Swimming Web site.

For information on safe swimming at beaches, see The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Beaches Web site.

Think Healthy. Be Healthy. Swim Healthy!


1US Census Bureau. 2009 statistical abstract of the United States. Recreation and leisure activities: participation in selected sports activities 2007 [PDF - 443 KB].

 

 
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