Don’t drink the water- how to avoid water related disease

The most serious risk of water is drowning or near drowning, with 3,300 deaths and another 5,000 hospitalizations annually in the United States.

young women walking on a beach

You’ve probably heard the advice “Don’t drink the water” when you travel to less developed areas of the world. But water can make you sick even without drinking it.

Bacteria and other disease causing organisms can be transmitted by swimming and other water related sports

  • in private and public pools
  • recreational freshwater and oceans
  • hot tubs, splash pads, water parks
  • decorative fountains

Drinking, inhaling, and direct contact with water contaminated with a variety of bugs can cause a wide range of illness, most of which is preventable. Here is an overview of common conditions to watch out for.

Drowning-

The most serious risk of water is drowning or near drowning, with 3,300 deaths and another 5,000 hospitalizations annually in the United States.

Children are especially at risk of drowning. Teaching children to swim as early as practical and supervising them around pools and other bodies of water are critical to prevention.

Drowning Prevention

caution signs at a swimming pool.
Drowning can be prevented by following rules.

Gastrointestinal (stomach and intestines) illness-

Symptoms

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, fever

Causes

stream with a kayak
Water in creeks, streams, and rivers is not safe to swallow.

Respiratory (nose, throat, lungs) illness

Symptoms-cough, nasal/sinus congestion,ear pain/fullness,fever

Swimmer’s Ear

Causes-

  • pool chemicals
  • Legionella and other bacteria
rapids in a stream

Skin conditions

Symptoms– rash, redness, itching, burning

Causes –

Most of these conditions resolve without treatment, or are treatable with appropriate antibiotics.

two people dangling their legs into a pool.
Don’t let water related illness spoil your summer fun. photo from stock photo site- Lightstock.com- affiliate link

Serious but rare

Primary amebic meningoencephalitis is a rare but deadly sinus-related infection caused by Naegleria fowleri in freshwater and soil 

Leptospirosis is another brain infection caused by a group of spirochetes known collectively as leptospires. It also is infrequent.

How to prevent infection

  1. Water used for recreation should not be drunk ,even if treated with chlorine.
  2. Children younger than five years should not use hot tubs.
  3. Persons with diarrhea or recent diarrhea infection should not swim for one week after symptoms have cleared.
  4. Swimmers should shower before using a hot tub or pool.
  5. Don’t swim with open wounds, or use waterproof bandage if you do. .
  6. Learn more and get more tips on staying well at these links from

drawing of a child standing on a diving board at a pool
from the American Academy of Family Physicians

from American Family Physician

Waterborne Illnesses

Safe Surfing

Sea Creature Injuries and Fish Poisoning

And from the Smithsonian , get more detail about

8 diseases to watch out for at the beach 

Exploring the HEART of summer health

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Author: Aletha Cress Oglesby, M.D.

I am a family physician who explores the HEART of HEALTH in my work, recreation, and through writing. On my blog, Watercress Words, I inform and inspire us in healthy living. I believe we can turn our health challenges into healthy opportunities. When we do, we can then share the HEART of health with our families, communities, and the world. Come explore and share with me.

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