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Lincoln – The week before Memorial Day, May 24-30, has been designated Healthy and Safe Swimming Week. The goal of this year's awareness week is to maximize the health benefits of swimming while minimizing the risk of illness and injury. Just 2.5 hours of physical activity every week, including water-based physical activity, can benefit everyone's health.
Everyone needs to do their part to help keep ourselves, families, and friends healthy. To help protect everyone and those around you, there are steps all swimmers can take each time the water is enjoyed.
Before getting into a pool, make sure the drain at the bottom of the deep end is visible. Check that the drain covers appear to be secured and in good condition. Check for lifeguard(s):
Pools, hot tubs, and water playgrounds with proper chlorine or bromine levels and pH are less likely to spread germs. Injuries and drownings are less likely when trained staff and adequate safety equipment are present.
Take personal responsibility as well. Stay out of the water if there is an open cut or wound (particularly from a surgery or piercing). If this is not possible, use waterproof bandages to completely cover the cut or wound and shower before entering the water. Rinsing off in the shower for just one minute removes most of the dirt or anything else on a body that uses up chlorine or bromine needed to kill or inactivate germs. If one has been sick with diarrhea, don't go back in the water for two weeks after diarrhea has completely stopped.
Once in the water, use well-fitting, Coast Guard-approved life jackets, not air-filled toys (such as water wings), for flotation assistance. Don't use the water as a toilet, and don't swallow the water. Take children for bathroom breaks and check diapers every hour. Dry ears thoroughly after swimming.
If at an ocean, lake, or river, check for beach or lake closure information on a state or local government website or at signs that are on-site. Cloudy water can be a warning that there are more germs in the water than normal. Stay out if any pipes are noticed that drain into or around the water.
Practice good hygiene by washing hands for 20 seconds before eating food, especially if there has been any playing in or touching sand. If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol should be used. Hand sanitizer might not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy, so wiping sand off before using it might be helpful.
When someone swallows contaminated recreational water they can get sick with diarrhea. In fact, diarrhea is the most common illness spread through recreational water. Diarrhea can be caused by germs that can survive in properly chlorinated water for almost an hour, or even days. Tiny amounts of feces may be rinsed off swimmers' bodies as people swim through water. Germs can be washed off bodies (infectious diarrhea can contain up to one billion germs) and get into recreational water, contaminating the water. These germs can make someone sick if even a small amount of contaminated water is swallowed.
In public pools, water playgrounds, and hot tubs, disinfection of the water (with chlorine or bromine) and filtration work together to help kill germs. Chlorine and bromine kill most germs within minutes, and filters remove debris (leaves, sticks), which use up the needed chlorine or bromine. Swimmers may still be exposed to germs during the time it takes for the chlorine or bromine to kill the germs or for the water to be recycled through filters. Certain germs can stay alive for days even in pools with proper filtration and disinfection.
Many facilities use one filtration system for multiple pools, which causes water from multiple pools to mix. This means germs from one body could contaminate the water in multiple pools.
The water that is for swimming, playing, or relaxing is all shared, so everyone plays a key role in helping to protect each other, as well as families and friends, from germs that can cause diarrhea. Everyone plays a role in preventing illnesses and injuries this summer, as well as the rest of the year.