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Diarrhea and swimming

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control warns about the dangers of diarrhea and swimming. 

Ahead of Memorial Day weekend and the opening of pools and beaches, the Illinois Department of Public Health issued warnings about diarrhea and a brain-eating amoeba.

The week before the holiday is designated Healthy and Safe Swimming Week, and the theme for this year is “Diarrhea and Swimming Don't Mix.” One gulp of water where a swimmer has had a “diarrheal incident” can cause diarrhea that lasts up to three weeks, health officials warned.

Many assume that chlorine kills organisms instantly, but germs like Cryptosporidium can survive in a chlorinated pool for more than one week. Other illnesses include ear, eye and wound infections.

To help prevent sickness, officials suggest the following:

• Shower before getting in the pool.

• Stay out of the water if you have diarrhea – swim diapers will not contain diarrhea if your child has an accident.

• Don’t pee or poop in the water.

• Don’t swallow the water.

• Report it if you or your child has a diarrheal incident while swimming.

• Take kids on bathroom breaks every hour.

• Check diapers and change them in a bathroom or diaper changing area – not poolside.

Swimming in freshwater lakes and rivers comes with a unique set of risks such as Naegleria fowleri, “the brain-eating amoeba,” and harmful algal blooms.

If water containing the amoeba goes up the nose, it can cause a rare but devastating infection of the brain. To reduce chances of becoming ill, avoid putting your head underwater, hold your nose or use nose clips and and avoid stirring up mud and scum while swimming.

Also, stay out of water that contains harmful algal blooms. Don’t swim, water ski or boat in areas where the water is discolored or where there is foam, scum, or mats of algae on the surface.

Michele Munz is a health reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.