Recreational Water Illness Prevention: Six Steps for Healthy Swimming

As Arkansans take to the water this Memorial Day weekend, the Arkansas Department of Health is recommending that swimmers take steps to avoid recreational water illnesses (RWIs).

RWIs are caused by germs that are spread by swallowing, having contact with or breathing in the mists or droplets from contaminated water in swimming pools, water parks, hot tubs, interactive fountains, water play areas, lakes, rivers, or oceans. RWIs can cause a wide variety of problems, including gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and wound infections. The most commonly reported RWI is diarrhea. Diarrhea can be caused by germs such as cryptosporidium, giardia, shigella, norovirus and E. coli.

The chlorine used in swimming pools, hot tubs, and other water venues kills germs that cause RWIs, but chlorine doesn’t work right away. It takes time to kill germs, and some, such as cryptosporidium, can live in properly chlorinated pools for days.

Swimmers can help protect themselves, their families, and others from RWIs. Follow the steps below to ensure that your swimming experience is healthy, and RWI-free.

Three Steps for All Swimmers


  • Don’t swim when you have diarrhea. You can spread germs in the water and make other people sick.
  • Don’t swallow the pool or lake water. Avoid getting water in your mouth.
  • Practice good hygiene. Germs on your body end up in the water. Shower with soap before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.

Three Steps for Parents of Young Children

Take your kids on bathroom breaks every hour or check diapers every 30-60 minutes.

  • Change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area and not poolside or on swim beaches where germs can rinse into the water.
  • Wash your child thoroughly (especially the rear end) with soap and water before swimming. Invisible amounts of feces may end up in the pool if the child is not cleaned thoroughly.

For more information on RWIs visit