Storm Water Runoff Can Pose Swimming Health Risks

Pick your swimming spots carefully this summer to avoid bacteria and viruses that can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Federal health officials say natural water sources – lakes, rivers and the ocean, can become contaminated from storm water runoff. When water flows over parks, lawns and farms, it picks up bacteria and viruses from animal feces, according to the National Institutes of Health. After it collects in storm drains, runoff flows out to the beach where people like to swim.

Chlorinated pools can also harbor bacteria and viruses because it takes time for the chlorine to kill the germs.

“We find that the storm water that’s released to beach areas is extremely contaminated,” said Dr. Sandra McLellan, an NIH-funded researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee whose lab tracks the sources of water contamination. “Let’s find the sources, let’s remove the sources and then we’ll have a cleaner beach overall.”

People who have diabetes, liver disease or a compromised immune system need to be particularly careful when and where they swim, said Dr. Rachel Noble, a researcher at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.  Bacteria that live naturally in coastal waters, including a few Vibrio species can cause serious, even deadly, infections.

“If you have a compromised immune system and you get a Vibrio infection, those are going to be very serious,” Noble said.

To stay health this summer, follow these water safety guidelines from the NIH News in Health:

  • Shower before and after going into a swimming pool.
  • Anyone who has had diarrhea in the last two weeks should stay out of the water to help prevent spreading infectious germs.
  • Never swallow recreational water.
  • Avoid swimming or playing in areas where storm water enters the beach.
  • Stay out of the water for at least 24 hours after a storm.
  • Always wash your hands before you eat or drink anything.

Source: NIH News in Health

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