It’s Safe to Go In the Water, Just Don’t Swallow It

April 28, 2014

There is nothing better on a hot summer day than a refreshing dip in a pool, stream, lake or ocean.

However, bacteria and parasites can lurk in all kinds of water and put a real damper on summertime fun unless people practice a few, simple measures.

“One of the worst offenders is the kiddie wading pool,” said Christopher Ohl, M.D., professor of infectious diseases at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and medical director of communicable diseases for the Forsyth County (N.C.) Health Department. “Warm, shallow water and kids in swim diapers --  which don’t do a good job of containing feces -- can create a perfect breeding ground for water-borne infections even though the water is chlorinated. The best way to prevent young children from getting sick is to keep them from swallowing that water.”

Ohl offers these other water safety tips:

  • If children have had any type of gastrointestinal illness, parents should keep them away from pools or water parks for several days to prevent contamination of the water.
  • Scream like crazy at water parks, but don’t swallow the water.
  • Freshwater lakes and streams can harbor leptospirosis, a bacterium excreted in the urine of mammals that drink from the water. Infection can cause fever with headache or muscle aches, but usually can be treated, Ohl said. To prevent, just don’t swallow the water.
  • Never drink untreated water in springs or streams even if it looks fresh and pure. Remember that wild animals drink from springs and streams and then often answer nature’s call often in the same place, Ohl said.
  • To avoid contracting Naegleria, a rare but deadly brain-eating amoeba that is almost impossible to treat, don’t jump feet first into a warm, stagnant pond, especially during a very dry summer. According to Ohl, jumping feet first into a pond can forcefully push water up into the top of the nose where there is a bone plate with tiny holes that the amoeba can crawl through to get into the brain.
  • Salt water presents less of a problem regarding infections from bacteria and parasites, but swimmers should stay out of the water if they have a cut or wound that could become infected. Also, it is a good idea to stay away from jellyfish floating on top of the water in the ocean. “Most people don’t realize that the tentacles of some jellyfish, especially Portuguese man-of-war, can be 10 to 15 feet long, so keep a safe distance to keep from being stung,” Ohl said. 

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Marguerite Beck:, 336-716-2415