Infectious Disease Epidemiology Program
Recreational Water Illness (RWI)
Though summer is short in Maine, residents and visitors spend time in pools, lakes, rivers, hot tubs, and at beaches. Staying healthy while enjoying summer activities is important. Keeping our recreational water sources clean is also important. Please read below to discover what you can do to stay healthy this summer and help keep others healthy too. Happy Swimming!
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What are RWIs?
- Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are caused by germs spread by swallowing, breathing in mists or aerosols of, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, hot tubs, water parks, water play areas, interactive fountains, lakes, rivers, or oceans. RWIs can be a wide variety of infections, including stomach, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections. The most commonly reported RWI is diarrhea.
How are RWIs spread?
- Swallowing water that has been contaminated with germs is the primary way RWIs are spread. Water can be contaminated from stool, sewage spills, animal waste and water runoff during rainfall. Some RWIs are caused by germs that live naturally in the environment. Proper disinfectant levels in pools or hot tubs will kill most germs.
Why Doesn't Chlorine Kill Recreational Water Illness (RWI) Germs?
- Chlorine does kill germs that cause RWIs but the time that it takes to kill each germ varies. Some germs, like Cryptosporidium (frequently referred to as Crypto) can survive for days in a properly disinfected pool. This makes it very important to keep the germs out of the water.
Who can most likely get ill from RWI?
- Children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems (people living with AIDS, organ transplants, receiving chemotherapy) can suffer from more severe illness if infected.
How can I prevent RWIs?
- Don't swim when you have diarrhea
- Don't swallow the water
- Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers and shower with soap before swimming
- Take kids on bathroom breaks or check diapers often
- Change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area
- Wash your child thoroughly (especially the rear end) with soap and water before swimming
- RWI FAQ
- Healthy Swimming Fast Facts
- Swim Diapers and Swim Pants
- Diarrhea and Spreading Illness at the Pool
- Chlorine Disinfection: Time Table for Killing Common Germs
- Cleaning Surfaces Around the Pool
- Inflatable and Plastic Pools (Kiddie Pools)
- Water Play Areas and Interactive Fountains
- Breastfeeding in Pools and Hot Tubs/Spas
- CPSC's Staying Safe in Pools and Spas
- Maine Healthy Beaches
- EPA beaches