Swimming Safety & Health Tips

kids swimming

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, and summertime is swimming time for many Tennesseans. This year’s theme for Healthy and Safe Swimming Week is “Swim Healthy. Stay Healthy” and the Tennessee Department of Health is celebrating with a reminder about simple steps everyone can take to enjoy the fun of swimming and help keep our swimming sites safe and healthy.

“Healthy swimming depends, in part, on keeping the treated water in which we swim free from contaminants,” said TDH Medical Epidemiologist Mary-Margaret Fill, MD. “The best way to prevent water illnesses is to keep germs out of our swimming areas, and we can all help do that with simple precautions like not swimming when sick with diarrhea or other illnesses, not swallowing swim water and showering before swimming.”

Preventing Water Illnesses
Recreational Water Illnesses, or RWIs, are caused by germs spread to people by swallowing, breathing in vapors of, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, water parks, hot tubs, fountains, lakes, rivers, springs, ponds or oceans. Germs on and in swimmers’ bodies end up in the water and can make people sick. RWIs can also be caused by chemicals in water or those that evaporate from water and cause indoor air quality problems.

“Our environmental health specialists inspect public swimming pools in Tennessee at least monthly for compliance with sanitation, disinfection and safety standards of the Tennessee Public Swimming Pool Law and rules,” said TDH Environmental Health Director Lori LeMaster, REHS. “Stay safe and healthy this summer by following posted pool rules, showering before entering a public pool and staying home if you’re sick.”

RWIs cause several types of health problems including gastrointestinal illness; eye infections and irritation; hepatitis; wound and skin infections; respiratory illness; ear infections and even neurologic infections. Even healthy swimmers can get sick from RWIs, but young children, elderly people, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems are especially at risk.

Follow these tips to help prevent RWIs:
• Don’t swim or let your child swim if sick with diarrhea
• Check out the pool’s latest inspection score
• Shower with soap before and after swimming
• Don’t pee or poop in the water
• Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers
• Take children on frequent bathroom breaks or check diapers often
• Check and change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area, not at poolside
• Don’t swallow the water you swim in
• Read and follow directions for pool chemical use and storage

Preventing Drowning
Two children younger than 14 years of age die from drowning each day in the U.S. Here in Tennessee, 22 children drowned in 2016. Drowning is a leading cause of death for children between the ages of one and four and near-drowning incidents leave many others with long-term consequences including memory problems, learning disabilities and other permanent physical limitations.

Follow these tips to help reduce the risk of drowning:
• Make sure everyone knows how to swim
• Use life jackets appropriately
• Provide continuous, attentive supervision close to swimmers, even if a lifeguard is present
• Know CPR
• Don’t use alcohol or drugs when swimming or watching swimmers
• Discourage horseplay and stunts
• Prevent access to water when the pool is not in use

“Summer is a great time to increase physical activity and just two and a half hours of physical activity every week, including water-based activity, can benefit our health,” said TDH Assistant Commissioner for Family Health and Wellness Morgan McDonald, MD. “Each of us can play a role in preventing injuries and illness linked to the water we swim in this summer and all through the year.”

For more information about healthy and safe swimming, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Healthy Swimming website www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/.

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. TDH has facilities in all 95 counties and provides direct services for more than one in five Tennesseans annually as well as indirect services for everyone in the state, including emergency response to health threats, licensure of health professionals, regulation of health care facilities and inspection of food service establishments. Learn more about TDH services and programs at www.tn.gov/health.