What’s the No. 1 rule of swimming in pools?

It’s the time of year to swim and splash around in bodies of water and dive into pools. 

Of course, Monongalia County Health Department has a few things to say about pools, summer and safety. 

As you may know, MCHD Environmental Health sanitarians inspect pools, hot tubs and spas in Monongalia County and we also respond to complaints. 

When it comes to pools, the No. 1 Environmental Health message is, don’t do No. 2 in the pool. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (and feel free to finish breakfast before continuing), “One person with diarrhea can contaminate the entire pool.” These rules also apply to splash pads. “Swallowing even a small amount of water contaminated with diarrhea germs can make you sick for up to three weeks.”  

So in addition to not taking a dip into a pool if you have diarrhea, it’s also incumbent on swimmers to avoid swallowing water at a pool or a splash pad. 

Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are caused by germs spread by swallowing, breathing in mists or having contact with contaminated water. Diarrhea is the most common RWI, but others include skin, ear, respiratory, eye and neurologic infections. Children are more likely to get these illnesses than adults. 

Here are some tips to follow to make swimming healthier for everyone:  

  • Don’t swim or let your kids swim when sick, including with diarrhea. 
  • Don’t swallow the water. 
  • Take kids on bathroom breaks every 60 minutes or more if needed. 
  • Check diapers every 30-60 minutes and change them in a bathroom or diaper-changing area, not waterside. 
  • Shower before you get in the water. 
  • If you are so inclined, you can do a mini inspection of the pool. Instructions on how to do that, as well as other safe swimming advice, can be found at cdc.gov/healthy-swimming/about/index.html  

As noted, MCHD Environmental Health’s registered sanitarians also inspect pools. Each pool undergoes a full inspection twice a year. Sanitarians also stop by each pool bi-weekly to check pH and chlorine. If they receive a complaint, sanitarians respond within 10 days. 

Of course, there is more to swimming safety than the quality of the water. Swimming lessons are a great idea for anyone who needs them, and individuals should only swim in areas protected by lifeguards. The American Red Cross also reminds parents of young children to supervise them yourselves even when there is a lifeguard on duty and cautions against relying on inflatable devices to be a substitute for parental supervision. 

Swimming in lakes, rivers, streams and at a beach have additional sets of advice to follow. Always enter unfamiliar water feet first. Do not dive in an area unless you know the water is deep enough and there are no obstructions that could cause harm. 

And when it comes to rip currents in the ocean, if you try to fight the rip current and swim against it, you’ll just get worn out, notes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Instead, float, and if you’re a good swimmer, swim parallel to shore until you’ve cleared the pull of the rip current. Swim with the waves, allowing them to push you to shore. 

Swimming is a great way to get exercise and have fun this summer and following a few rules will help ensure that you will be safe at the same time. 

Email Mary Wade Burnside at [email protected]