Diarrhea and swimming don’t mix! Diarrhea is the most common recreational water illness (RWI). Swimmers who are sick with diarrhea—or who have been sick in the last two weeks—risk contaminating pool water with germs.
Diarrheal illnesses are caused by germs such as Crypto (short for Cryptosporidium), Giardia, Shigella, norovirus and E. coli O157:H7. These germs can live from minutes to days in pools, even if the pool is well-maintained. Some germs are very tolerant to chlorine and were not known to cause human disease until recently. Once the pool has been contaminated, all it takes is for someone to swallow a small amount of pool water to become infected.
Crypto has become the leading cause of swimming pool-related outbreaks of diarrheal illness. It can stay alive for days even in well-maintained pools and can cause prolonged diarrhea (for 2-3 weeks). For more information about Crypto and healthy swimming, see the fact sheet below and visit CDC’s Crypto website.
To help protect the health of others, do not swim when you have diarrhea. Microscopic amounts of infected fecal matter can contaminate an entire pool or hot tub and make others sick if they swallow the water.
If you have diarrhea, the most important thing you can do is to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. This is especially important for young children, pregnant women, and persons with weakened immune systems (such as those living with HIV/AIDS, those who have received an organ transplant, or those receiving certain types of chemotherapy).
Seek medical care immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- your diarrhea is bloody
- your diarrhea does not resolve in 5 days
- your diarrhea is accompanied by fever or chills
- you are dehydrated (Signs of dehydration include: dry or “cottony” mouth, cracked lips, dry flushed skin, headache, irritability, not urinating at least four times a day, no tears when crying, not sweating, or confusion)
A health care provider may prescribe medicine to help replace the fluids your body has lost because of the diarrhea. In some cases, over-the-counter medications can slow the diarrhea.