September 13, 2008

Understand the Risks of Water-Born Illnesses

By PAM HIJUELOS Special to Warrick

Do you love swimming? Then forgive me for being the bearer of news worth noting about water-born illnesses.

Swimming and other water sports are healthy activities, many of which can be enjoyed even as we grow older.

But here are some things you should know before you put on your swimsuit.

Parasites are most often the causes of water-related illnesses. These illnesses can range from skin infections, to diarrhea, respiratory symptoms and meningitis.

Last year, state and local health departments investigated more outbreaks of water illnesses than ever before. Lynae Granzow, enteric epidemiologist at the Indiana State Department of Health, said, "This upsurge is being driven by an increase in the number of recreational water illness outbreaks caused by Cryptosporidium, or 'Crypto'. When Crypto is swallowed, a diarrheal illness can occur and persist for several weeks."

No, Crypto has nothing to do with the temporary demise of Superman, but a chlorine-resistant parasite that is primarily associated with treated recreational water locations, such as pools and water parks, and can even be transmitted in a well-maintained pool. Swimming in untreated water such as lakes, rivers or streams poses a risk for Crypto and for a number of infections.

Granzow says awareness of recreational water illnesses and healthy swimming habits play an important role in stopping the transmission of Crypto. The germs on and in a swimmer's body can make other individuals sick once they enter the water. While healthy swimmers can become infected, children, the elderly, pregnant women and people who are immunosuppressed are especially at risk.

So once again, what's our recourse?

Health officials recommend that we do not swim when we have diarrhea; do not swim with an open wound; do not swallow pool water or get pool water in our mouths; shower before swimming (including children); regularly and thoroughly wash hands; take children on bathroom breaks or change diapers often, and change diapers in a bathroom, not poolside.

Because the water is a tremendous source of exercise and leisure, the Warrick County Health Department urges swimmers to continue enjoy swimming while also following healthy swimming behaviors to reduce the risk of recreational water illnesses.

And as a reminder, the health department continues to emphasize that "proper hand washing is the single most important means to preventing infection."

At the most minimum level, hands should be washed:

n After using the restroom.

n After diapering a child or assisting a child to use the restroom.

n After caring for someone who is ill.

n After cleaning soiled areas.

n After coughing or sneezing into hands or using facial tissues.

n Before and after preparing food.

Also, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve if a disposable tissue isn't available.

For more information about health issues in Warrick County, contact the health department at 897-6105 or via e-mail at [email protected]

The department is located in the Old Courthouse in Boonville.


The Warrick County Museum, at the corner of First and Walnut streets in Boonville, will host a free health fair from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sept. 20. There will be several booths addressing healthy lifestyles, drug prevention, suicide awareness and more.

Call 897-3100 for more information.

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