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Health Officials Remind Virginians to Practice Healthy Swimming Behaviors

Germs on and in swimmers' bodies can make people sick; caution recommended regarding swimming in stagnant or shallow freshwater when temperature rises

The Virginia Department of Health reminds everyone about the steps they can take to prevent recreational water illnesses. Germs on and in swimmers' bodies end up in the water and can make other people sick. Even healthy swimmers can get sick from recreational water, but pregnant women and people who are young, elderly, or have weakened immune systems are especially at risk.

The best way to prevent recreational water illnesses is to keep germs out of the water in the first place. Follow these steps for a safe and healthy swimming experience:

  • Don't swim when you have diarrhea. 
  • Don't swallow pool, lake, pond or river water.
  • Practice good hygiene. Shower with soap before and after swimming.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after using the restroom or changing diapers. 
  • Take children on bathroom breaks or change diapers often. 
  • Change diapers in a bathroom, not at poolside or beachside. 
  • Avoid swimming, diving or other activities in obviously stagnant water freshwater bodies when temperatures are high and water levels are low. 
  • Hold your nose or wear nose plugs when underwater or when diving or swimming in hot shallow freshwater bodies.

The most common symptom of recreational water illness is diarrhea, which frequently is severe enough to result in hospitalization. Symptoms may not begin until a week or more after swimming. Another concern is the parasite Cryptosporidium, one of the most common waterborne disease agents. It is a chlorine-resistant parasite that can survive and be transmitted even in a properly maintained pool.

During periods of no rain and very high temperatures like we have been experiencing recently in Virginia, swimmers should also be aware of a rare kind of risk. The free-living amoeba Naegleria fowleri proliferates in stagnant freshwater lakes, ponds, streams and rivers when water temperatures climb into the high 80s. The organism travels up the nose to the brain, causing a severe and nearly always fatal form of meningitis. According to Dr. Keri Hall, Director of Epidemiology at the Virginia Department of Health, "Sadly we have had a Naegleria infection in Virginia this summer.  It's important that people be aware of these safe swimming messages."  Only 32 infections were reported in the U.S. from 2001 to 2010, and prior to this summer, the last Naegleria infection in Virginia was in 1969.

For more information about healthy swimming, go to or

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