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Notice to Readers: Recreational Water Illness Prevention Week --- May 18--24, 2009

The fifth annual National Recreational Water Illness (RWI) Prevention Week is May 18--24, 2009, the week before Memorial Day. The goal of National RWI Prevention Week is to highlight the importance of healthy swimming behaviors and prevent recreational water illness and injuries. RWIs are caused by ingesting, inhaling vapors of, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, water parks, spas, interactive fountains, ponds, lakes, rivers, or oceans. Injuries can occur in or out of the water. During 2005--2006, a total of 78 outbreaks were identified, affecting 4,412 persons and resulting in 116 hospitalizations and five deaths (1). This year's observance focuses on prevention of injuries associated with pool chemicals.

Pool chemicals make recreational water safer by reducing pathogens; however, these same chemicals also can cause injuries if not properly stored or handled. A report in this issue of MMWR describes the epidemiology of pool chemical--associated injuries (2). These preventable injuries lead to an estimated 5,200 emergency department visits each year. Persons can be injured by inhaling fumes when opening pool chemical containers, attempting to predissolve pool chemicals, or handling these chemicals improperly. Persons also can be injured when failing to use appropriate personal protective equipment (e.g., by not wearing safety glasses and splashing pool chemicals into the eyes). Public pool operators and residential pool owners can protect themselves and swimmers by taking the following steps: 1) securing pool chemicals away from children and animals; 2) reading the product name and manufacturer's directions before each use; 3) using appropriate protective gear, such as safety glasses and gloves, when handling pool chemicals; and 4) never mixing chlorine products with each other, with acid, or with any other substance. A complete set of pool chemical--associated injury prevention recommendations is available at

The best way the swimming public can help prevent RWIs this summer is to keep pathogens out of the pool in the first place. Swimmers can help protect themselves and others by following these simple healthy swimming steps: 1) do not swim with diarrhea; 2) do not swallow pool water, 3) practice good hygiene (e.g., shower with soap before swimming and wash hands after using the toilet or changing diapers); 4) take children on bathroom breaks often and change diapers often; 5) change diapers in a bathroom or diaper-changing area and not at poolside; and 6) wash children thoroughly with soap before they go swimming.

To help state and local health departments disseminate these messages to the public, CDC's Healthy Swimming Program has a new free brochure (Healthy Swimming: Protect Yourself and Your Family Against Recreational Water Illnesses) available in English and in Spanish. Ordering information is available from CDC online ( or by telephone (800-CDC-INFO [800-232-4636]). In addition, CDC has developed two new educational products to help raise community awareness: a video, In the Swim of Things, which describes RWIs and how to prevent them, and a 30-second public service announcement. Starting May 18, these items will be available for download at


  1. CDC. Surveillance for waterborne disease and outbreaks associated with recreational water---United States 2005--2006. MMWR 2008;57
    (No. SS-9).
  2. CDC. Pool chemical--associated health events in public and residential settings---United States, 1983--2007. MMWR 2009;58:489--93.

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Date last reviewed: 5/14/2009


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