Water Recreation-Related Illnesses

Contaminated water in swimming pools, water play areas and beaches can cause swimming-related illnesses. Anyone can get these illnesses.

Such illnesses are usually minor but can result in more serious diseases. Children, seniors, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems are at higher risk for these illnesses.

These illnesses can spread by swallowing, breathing in mists or aerosols or having contact with contaminated water.

Types of Illnesses

Different bacteria can infect the water and make you sick.

The most reported water recreational-related illness is diarrhea caused by bacteria such as:

Other minor illnesses can include diseases affecting the eye, ear, skin and upper respiratory system.

The chlorine used in swimming pools kills most of the bacteria that cause recreational water illnesses.

Serious Illnesses from Polluted Water

In highly polluted water, swimmers may be exposed to the following serious diseases:

People with compromised immune systems are more likely to develop illnesses or infection after swimming in polluted water. If you think you have a swimming related illness, talk to your health care provider.

You can submit an online complaint about the water quality of a beach or pool.


Do not swim in areas where there are no lifeguards or when a beach is under an advisory or closure. The best way to prevent swimming-related illnesses is to follow the following steps:

  • Do not swim when you have diarrhea. Do not swim until two weeks after you stop having diarrhea.
  • Avoid submerging your head while swimming. Do not swallow pool water or get pool water in your mouth.
  • Shower with soap before swimming.
  • Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.
  • Take children on bathroom breaks or change diapers often. Change children's diapers in a bathroom.
  • Avoid swimming at beaches during and after rainfall.
  • Do not swim in or allow children to play in storm drains or stormwater.
  • Avoid swimming if you have an open wound or infection.
  • Ask pool operators if chlorine and pH levels are checked at least three times per day. Request information on the latest pool inspection results. You can check pool water yourself using test strips purchased at your local hardware or pool supply store.

Prevention Tips for Pool Owners and Aquatics Staff

You should regularly monitor water quality. If water quality does not meet the legal requirements, you should close the pool until it is corrected. Make educational materials available to all swimmers. Have a written response policy to address feces, vomit and blood contamination incidents.

Chlorine and pH levels should be checked at least three times a day and more often when the pool is in heavy use. These chemicals can also cause injuries if they are not properly handled. Take these steps to protect yourself and swimmers:

  • Secure pool chemicals. Keep children and animals away.
  • Read product names and directions before each use.
  • Use protective gear, such as safety glasses and gloves, when handling chemicals.
  • Never mix chlorine products with each other or other substances.

Additional Resources

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