What is Recreational Water Illness?

Keep your pool clean
Keep your pool clean

Contaminated Pools and Lakes and More

Becoming ill after swimming in a pool, lake, ocean or bay, is becoming so common, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has given the skyrocketing sickness a name - Recreational Water Illness (RWI). Other water-related sites also contribute to RWIs, such as water parks, water play areas, hot tubs and decorative water fountains.

To protect yourself and your family, the CDC has issued some safety tips to prevent water related adverse health events:

Do Not Let Water Get in the Mouth - Water may have been infected with fecal matter and sewage causing the disease known as cryptosporidiosis - the most common waterborne illness here in the US. Symptoms include vomiting, fever, stomach cramps and diarrhea.

Don't Swim After a Heavy Rain - Wait at least 24 hours before swimming in a natural body of water, such as a river or ocean. Storm-water runoff containing pollution from sewage is highest after a heavy rain.

Avoid Pools With a Strong Chlorine Smell - That strong chemical smell emanating from a pool means the pool has not been disinfected properly; if it was it would have very little odor. The strong smell is created when sweat and urine are mixed with chlorine. The Healthy Water Program at the CDC reports that in this case the water is not being properly monitored for safety. Don't assume that the proper amount of chlorine will immediately kill RWI germs in pools and hot tubs. Killing RWI germs will take time and the amount of time varies with each germ. Germs like Crypto (Cryptosporidium) can survive for several days.

Wash Up After Swimming - After swimming always immediately bathe, and always wash your bathing suit. Infectious germs and parasites remain on the body. If bathing immediately is not possible, at least thoroughly wash your hands to prevent the spread of germs.

Being Proactive:

It's always best to be proactive and keep germs out of pools in the first place, by using proper care. Always take your young child to the toilet prior to swimming - and change diapers away from the pool area. Always shower with soap and water and wash your hands after using the toilet. Do not swim if you have diarrhea.

Who is Likely to be Most Affected? - Pregnant women, children and people with weakened immune systems such as people living with AIDS, people who have received an organ transplant, and people who are receiving certain types of chemotherapy.

Warning - People with weakened immune systems should be made aware that if Crypto is in the water it can cause a life-threatening infection.

For more information check the CDC website.

For other health related issues to be aware of - please see the links below:

More by this Author


Comments 55 comments

lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

I love to bathe in the waters of the Gulf and enjoy the beaches beyond any manmade pool (aside from the fact I react badly to chlorine.) Now, if only we could take out all the garbage man has dumped into the Gulf, the latest being tons of dispersents and detergents. Nothing like swimming in a chemical soup.

But I digress, and this really is a good article with timely advice. Lynda


CountryCityWoman profile image

CountryCityWoman 5 years ago from From New York City to North Carolina

I remember wanting to sign up to swim at a local spa some years ago. I stepped in to the pool area and was almost knocked over by the chlorine smell. Yet, this I was aways kind of led to believe was so necessary when in fact I see now it just means the pool is not properly maintained.

Glad you included water parks as well. It seems when companies want to cut back, it's the cleaning staff that is reduced - and we are now plagued with epidemics of so many ailments. I'll share this with a friend who always takes her grands to a local pool.

Thanks for the info about a new ailment. Sigh.

Rated up!


jo 5 years ago

I have always thought the strong chlorine smell, was meant to protect one from diseases, but after reading this article, I have found out differently.

I only put my toes in the water, but the kids love swimming, but we all shower once we return from the pool,

yea, I wash my toes also....


TheListLady profile image

TheListLady 5 years ago from New York City

Good grief! But nothing surprises me. There is just no effort to remember cleanliness is one way to prevent so many infections.

I've never been a fan of pools and I admit when I see too many very young children there is just no way I'd even go near a pool.

Thanks for the information. Whew! Rated up!


travel_man1971 profile image

travel_man1971 5 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

Thanks for this hub, BkCreative. I'm not a pool person due to the adverse reaction of chlorine on my skin, leaving white spots on it.


theherbivorehippi profile image

theherbivorehippi 5 years ago from Holly, MI

Ugh...unfortunately I knew most of this horrible information already but I did not know that pollution in the water is highest after a rainfall!! I would have thought the opposite..thinking it was fresh water. I used to love hot tubs and they disgust me now. I think nearly everyone in my family has one except me and chlorine...blah! It seems as though the only logical and safe thing to do is put up a huge privacy fence and run around naked in the rain! lol

Great hub on an important topic! People don't realize the damage. There's an outside mall where I live where you can take your dogs and they're allowed in most stores. Well, all summer they have this children play area with these fountains that shoot up water to play in and you can smell the chlorine at the other end of the strip. So unhealthy!


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 5 years ago from Texas, USA

Good reference source, I will bookmark and tweet this article.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

Thank you llmartin - wouldn't it be lovely to see and swim in clean water. We just don't deserve this filth. And so many people seem to be reacting to chlorine. After researching this, I'm beginning to think that too much is used in the cleaning process with little prevention being practiced. Whew!

So true CountryCityWoman - I've had the same experience with this overwhelming chlorine odor - when you step into a pool area. Maybe this is why so many people are turning to saltwater pools. Hmmmm. I'll look into that. How wonderful to swim but not in a chemical soup as llmartin writes. Ugh!

I know Jo - that powerful chlorine smell. And I'm thinking it is even worse indoors because there is no sun to help disinfect. But I am so glad you wash your toes. Whew!

Yes, thelistlady - cleaning is just tossed aside. Whole cleaning staffs are reduced - one of the simplest things to do - prevention - and it is just not done. Then we are surprised with bed bugs and dirty hotels and MRSA and on and on.

I'm wondering travel_man1971 - if excessive chlorine use is part of the problem. Seems more and more is being dumped in pools - rather than taking preventive steps. Ugh!

I would think too theherbivorehippi that after a rainfall there would be a cleansing - but with the run off from every filthy surface - sigh! I guess it is a problem. I can see why the East River here is so filthy after a rain in NYC washing down everything and then it pours into the river. I think it is mainly about the filthy industrial farms and their waste washing into the waters. And isn't it awful about the fountains - I just didn't think of that and then all the water parks.

Thank you Coolmon2009 for bookmarking and tweeting. I'm glad you found it as a good reference source.

Thanks for the comments.


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 5 years ago from India

Excellent advice BkCreative! Water is supposed to be cleansing and we go make it into a medium that spreads disease!


creativeone59 profile image

creativeone59 5 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

Wow BK, I had no idea, that swimming in the pool was so dangerous, not that I swim. But I can at least tell my grand kids about. Thank you so much for sharing this. Godspeed. creativeone59


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

Ah so true, a medium that spreads disease - how awful Shalini Kagal. I don't know what to think anymore. Except that it's good we can share information here and be informed.

As I researched this and hear from others creativeone59, I am finding out just how bad this is. Yet, it is not getting better. Except my friend Jo who wrote in above told me that in the pool where she takes her grands - if anyone poops in the water - it causes the water to turn blue and everyone has to get out. But she says the chlorine still smells strong. Glad it will be helpful to you and your grands - just like for me. But - Ugh!

Thanks for the comments.


timorous profile image

timorous 5 years ago from Me to You

I hate to throw some skepticism at this problem, but it seems to me it's a matter of proper use of chlorine. After all, chlorine has been used in pools for decades, and you never heard of very much adverse reaction. Maybe it's just getting more attention now. Perhaps it's also an over-reaction, and maybe no more widespread than it's ever been.

I think the main problem is that many people's immune systems are compromised because the present-day North American diet relies way too much on packaged and processed foods. Consuming fresh fruit and vegetables every day will do wonders for your immune system, that no packaged food can equal.

Add to that..exposure to chemicals (household cleaners are particularly nasty) everywhere you go, and it's no wonder people are unhealthy.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

It is so true timorous - our immune systems are shot. We are susceptible to everything. By the way there was just a report on tv that GMO foods have probably played a role in destroying our immune system. In fact in the hub I pointed out how people with compromised immune systems are at the greatest risk. If you have a cold all the time, even allergies, it is a sign of a weakened immune system. To me a cold should be a warning sign to improve your diet and lifestyle.

I do think however, that cleaning was better practiced in the past, with chlorine being an aid - whereas now it seems that chlorine is taking the place of a proper cleaning.

Thanks for your input.


Pollyannalana profile image

Pollyannalana 5 years ago from US

It was my understanding that we drink treated sewer water, including the chlorine. They only worry about the hormones (is that the word I am looking for) (Women who use birth control and pee it into the sewer?) they cannot kill that for some reason. They encapsulate up all the sewer instead of letting it go back into the ground such as septic to cleanse itself and too we are not having all that liquid to redistribute being pulled up and come back down as clean rain. They get rich, we get diseases, pharmaceutical makes more money, the environment gets out of whack causing droughts...on and on. Bottled water in stores is no different. I have a sewer plant within miles of me and we went by there once just for curiosity and believe me I boil all water I drink and still don't feel good about it. I would probably feel better about drinking pool water, lol. Maybe it is not everywhere but I live in the country so surely it is true for city?


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 5 years ago from United States

This is very good information for people to know. Thanks for sharing such important information.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Wow! Who knew? I've never been affected adversely from being in pools or natural bodies of water, that I know of, and never gave it a thought. I grew up where the Raritan Bay meets the ocean, and when I was a kid the beaches there were off-limits and so posted, because of pollution. Those postings were impossible to miss, and so we stayed out of the water. These RWI pathogens aren't quite so obvious, are they? Thanks for the useful info!


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

God points - I've read too Pollyannalana about all the toxic pharmaceuticals going into our water through urine and then just dumping of the unused. And then what do we think that does to marine life. I remember going down South 50 years ago and looking out at clean water - now it is all brown - surely dumping has affected our water supply. Nature is no longer balanced and we are paying.

Here in NYC we are constantly told how our water is some of the best drinking water in the US - first of all - that is not saying much at all - and we should probably be told it is not as bad - but the operative word should not be 'good' - and then when politicians constantly say this - well, naturally I am not going to believe them.

Thanks Pamela99 - I'm glad we can be informed because if we start feeling sick after a swim at least now we may be able to identify the cause and not be treated for something else. We can also prevent the problem.

I'm glad to hear you have been okay with pools, Sally's Trove - sounds like quality maintenance which is what it takes. And our bays - yes, polluting them is so common that the response is to do nothing and put up a sign - and get on with more of the same.

I'm so glad we have a forum here where we can exchange information and protect ourselves.

Thanks for the comments.


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 5 years ago

Thanks for the great hub. As usual, you are a wealth of information, and I appreciate your enlightening me, since swimming is something I really like to do. Rated up


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

I'm so glad you found the hub useful toknowinfo. I'm glad we can share information and keep everyone informed so we can demand better.

Thanks for the rating too!


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

Thank you for your good advice. Haven't we created a sad world.


akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon

Great information! When we lived in the Seattle area, there were so many problems with geese contaminating the water at various lakes and it got to the point where I didn't want the kids going there to swim. I usually opted for one lake that seemed to never have the contamination problems and steadfastly refused most of the time to go to the others!

Good points and voted up!


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

You're welcome Hello, hello. I am glad you found the hub worthwhile.

Yes, akirchner - speaking of geese, they are being quietly gassed here in NYC by the hundreds. Nature is so unbalanced that there is always an overpopulation of one animal or another - including we the people for paving every green area for our personal use. If there are a lot of geese we just can't swim there. Thanks for your up vote!


oktoral profile image

oktoral 5 years ago

Thank you for your good hubs.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

You're welcome oktoral - and good to meet you!


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago

When I was a kid growing up in Thailand, I liked swimming in a little canal during the rainy season. And yeah, I got sick pretty often! Silly me; I never made that connection before. Rated this useful! :)


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

How interesting Om Paramapoonya! I never made the connection myself. I suppose it does depend on what is running off the land and into the water.

Thanks for your input!


2besure profile image

2besure 5 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

I remember a few summers ago with some children died from this. We never heard of this when we were kids. Probably happened but under reported or didn't related it to bacteria in pools.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

Oh this is shocking 2besure. There is so much that happens in the way of illnesses and we have no idea what the cause is.

I remember doubling over with stomach cramps two days in a row - and I am not a person to get stomach cramps. The only thing I had done differently was to take a 'woman's multivtamin' - I stopped - no more cramps. Good grief.

Our poor children who seldom get the benefit of being breastfed and strengthening their immune systems - they are more vulnerable...to everything.

Thanks for your input.


cameciob profile image

cameciob 5 years ago

BkCreative, I read your article and then the comments and I felt like I was in a SF book :)...water illneses, polluted drinking water, weak immune system, sick people...just to name few. Ihen I irealized that's not fiction, that's reality and it scares me.

Thank you for this hub. I never realy thought about this subject but I am glad I found out. Voted up and rated!


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

I'm glad you mentioned a SF book cameciob. Some years ago I read a SF book by a favorite author, Octavia Butler entitled "Parable of the Sower" - and I found myself saying well this isn't so far-fetched, it can happen. And so it is. A total destruction of the health and well-being of a nation - and we still refuse to admit that it is happening.

How can we think it is okay to destroy our environment - and still be well. Sigh.

This water illness is not new it is just that it is so bad - it now has a name and cannot be entirely ignored.

Fortunately, we have a forum like this to share information. We have no excuse.

Thanks for your comment and vote!


cashmere profile image

cashmere 5 years ago from India

Excellent Hub. An now I'm worried to go swimming anywhere!


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

You just have to be aware cashmere and demand cleanliness. That super chlorine smell is just too much for me - I can't bear it. Thanks for the compliment by the way!


HealthyHanna profile image

HealthyHanna 5 years ago from Utah

I'm a water nut as many of our health problems have been helped by good quality drinking and bathing water. I am always very hesitant now when it comes to recreational water because our skin absorbs so much. Thanks for the hub.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

You're welcome HealthyHanna - I'm glad you have access to good quality water - I wish it was a right. I'm not likely to sign up at a local pool anymore here in NYC - they are mobbed because the city is mobbed - so I doubt much cleaning is done.

Thanks for commenting!


drpastorcarlotta profile image

drpastorcarlotta 5 years ago from BREAKOUT MINISTRIES, INC. KC

WOW! This Hub is very informational! I voted very useful BkCreative


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

Thank you so much drpastorcarlotta - always good to hear from you! Yay!


World-Traveler profile image

World-Traveler 5 years ago from USA

Even some rivers that look pristinely perfect and clean can harbor microbes dangerous to health. Thanks for a very informative page of information.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

Good point World-Traveler - we have to take precautions everywhere and not assume. Thanks for your input!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

I used to love swimming in my mother's swimming pool when it was basically just her and me using it. That was great! As to public pools...not interested because of all the things you and others cited. The best "public" pool I ever enjoyed was in Death Valley where the natural water flowed through it with such a one way current that they did not even have to use chlorine. That was super!


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

It just makes sense Peggy W. Our own pools great - a general population pool, when you think about it - a pool filled with strangers - ugh! The Death Valley pool sounds ideal with water flowing through it - and the sun and heat helps destroy germs as well. A place I still have to visit. Thanks for writing.


david stillwagon 5 years ago

great hub, I often worry about getting into a pool with alot of chlorine in it.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

I am more concerned now than ever. I mean who needs this type of disease caused by filth. Argh! Thanks for writing!


gr82bme profile image

gr82bme 5 years ago from USA

Bk! We took our gkids camping and some little pisspot pooped in the water! The kid was like 4-5 there was no reason for it. Then they brought the kid back after the pool had been cleaned. No one would swim in it again. Too bad it ruined the week for all. People take charge of your children. Ask them befor you got to the pool and repeatedly while there if they have to use the bathroom. Even if they say no, which you know they will because they do not want to get out, MAKE them go!


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

Too bad gr82beme! There is no excuse for a 4-5 year old to do this - the parents are at fault here - but for so long this was just joked about and considered funny.

Now there is that blue stuff - that shows when someone does this (fortunately). So now the day is ruined for parents and their children who do the right thing.

Perhaps there should be financial penalties - I think that might may the difference.

Thanks for your comment. I'm enjoying your hubs!


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 5 years ago

This is excellent advice! Thank you again BkCreative.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

You're welcome - and thanks for the compliment Micky Dee!


Veronica Allen profile image

Veronica Allen 5 years ago from Georgia

You know BkCreative - I don't know if it's because I'm a confessed germaphobe that I've never been a fan of taking my family to the pool. I'd rather go to the beach before I step foot in a pool. I do on occasion and each time I try to take extra precaution such as cleaning up before and after we have spent time in one. I did not know however, that it's not a good sign when the pool has a high chlorine smell. I though that was a good sign but I see it is not. The explanation makes a lot of sense though. I will keep that in mind the next time I visit our local pool.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

You knew instinctively Veronica Allen to avoid those pools. It is just so nasty. What's the benefit of swimming in filth or too much chlorine. No, I'd rather take my chances at the big wide beaches with moving water.

I read recently that more homeowners want saltwater pools to avoid the chlorine. I like that idea.

Thanks for commenting!


DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

DeBorrah K. Ogans 5 years ago

BK Creative, Great! Another wonderful informative hub! I had not heard of this! But why am I not surprised? You have given us much to consider... One must be mindful there are just too many unknown factors that could further impact our health! Thank You for sharing, In HIS Love, Peace & Blessings!


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

Thanks for the lovely compliment Deborrah K. Ogans. I'm glad you found the hub useful. Seems we have to be mindful of absolutely everything - and leave nothing to chance. But hey - we can do this!


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 5 years ago from US

Very useful hub Carolyn, Crypto is really dangerous. Maita


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

Thanks for your input Maita. I'm glad we have a forum to share information like this.


IslandVoice profile image

IslandVoice 5 years ago from Hawaii

This is a big concern for me, esp. since my hubby loves swimming in large olympic size pools, and the club pool etc. My granddaughter is also a swimmer, and every summer takes swimming lessons. Thanks for the info. Better to know, be careful, than be sorry.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

So true IslandVoice. I was watching this show about a woman buying a vacation home - but it did not have a bathtub which she prefers, just a shower. So she said it would be no probably she'd just jump in the outdoor swimming pool - which by the way was owned and shared by the community. Ugh! The mindset of some people.

Good to hear from you.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

Yes Rachel Harris - it makes sense. I would opt for water filtration before I did all those chemicals. I cannot imagine creating a chemical soup for my children to swim in.

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