Recreational Water Illness

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Children in swimming pool

Recreational water illnesses are diseases that people can get from the water they swim and play in—like pools, hot tubs, water playgrounds, oceans, lakes, and rivers—if the water is contaminated with germs. The most common symptoms are diarrhea, skin rashes, ear pain, cough or congestion, and eye pain. Swallowing just a mouthful of water that contains diarrhea-causing germs can make you sick. You can also get sick from other contact with water contaminated with germs, such as breathing its mist.


Key Facts

  • The most common recreational water illness is diarrhea. Swallowing water contaminated with poop that contains germs can cause diarrheal illness.
  • Diarrheal illnesses can be caused by germs such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, norovirus, and E. coli.
  • People typically have about 0.14 grams of poop on their bodies at any given time. This poop can wash off swimmers’ bodies and can contaminate the water with germs.
  • Recreational water illnesses can also be caused by chemicals in the water or chemicals that evaporate from the water or turn into gas in the air.


Don't leave your mark at the pool this summer!
Don't leave your mark at the pool this summer!
Diarrhea and swimming don't mix!
Diarrhea and swimming don't mix!
Don't Pee in the Pool!
Don't Pee in the Pool!

Prevention Tips

We all share the water we swim in, and we each need to do our part to keep ourselves, our families, and our friends healthy. To help protect yourself and other swimmers from germs and other health threats, here are a few simple and effective steps all swimmers can take each time we swim:

  • Keep the pee, poop, sweat, and dirt out of the water!
  • Stay out of the water if you have diarrhea.
  • Shower before you get in the water.
  • Don’t pee or poop in the water.
  • Don’t swallow the water.
  • Take kids on bathroom breaks every hour.
  • During breaks, check diapers, and change them in a bathroom or diaper-changing area–not poolside–to keep germs away from the pool.
  • Reapply sunscreen and drink plenty of fluids.

More Information

Page last reviewed: July 7, 2021