Although a public pool may seem like a great place to cool off on the days when the sun’s heat seems relentless, it can also be a hotbed of microbial activity.
According to the Westchester Department of Health’s website, chlorine—although effective at killing germs such as E.Coli, Shigella, Salmonella and Norovirus that can cause pool-borne illnesses—don’t always work immediately, leaving swimmers vulnerable to sickness if they swallow contaminated water. These germs typically enter the water through babies’ unchanged diapers or someone’s unwashed hands.
But it’s not only pools that help spread disease.
Those swimming in lakes, ponds or oceans can become infected with swimmer’s itch, an allergic reaction caused by the release of microscopic parasites that originate in the intestines of aquatic birds and mammals. Although this condition generally goes away on its own, the Health Department recommends toweling off briskly and/or taking a shower after swimming to prevent larvae from penetrating the skin. Symptoms can be treated with calamine lotion or cortisone cream.
Unlike other germs, which can be invisible to the naked eye, blue green algae blooms in slow moving streams, lakes and ponds can’t be missed. Staining the water an unhealthy shade of pea soup (or shades of yellow, brown or red), the blooms form when blue green algae becomes abundant in hot, calm water that gets a lot of sunlight, according to the Health Department. Although the sickly shade of the water makes it doubtful that anyone would risk drinking and/or swimming it by sight alone, those that do so may experience symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, skin or throat irritation or difficulty breathing. If left untreated or consumed in great quantities, blooms can also affect the liver and nervous system. The Health Department recommends avoiding the water altogether and, if symptoms occur, seeking medical attention immediately.
According to the blue green algae notice map on the Health Department's website, Bedford Lake in Bedford is the only body of water in Westchester that may potentially be affected by blue green algae currently.
Other tips from the Health Department for avoiding water illness are as follows:
- Patrons should always practice good hygiene. It is important to shower before swimming or using spray park features and always wash hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Germs on one's body may get into the water.
- Patrons should never drink the water when swimming or using spray park features and should avoid getting water in their mouths to prevent potential illness. It is important to note that water at most spray parks is recycled and should not be consumed.
- Patrons must never use spray park features, swimming pools or beaches when they have diarrhea. This is especially important for infants and toddlers in diapers. This may spread germs in the water and make other people sick.
- Patrons with children should take them for bathroom breaks and/or check their diapers often. Children's diapers should be changed in a bathroom and not near spray park features, swimming pools or beach areas to prevent the spread of germs and illness.
For further information on the waterborne illnesses, please visit the Health Department's website here.