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Beware of Recreational Water Illnesses

Make a splash without getting sick this summer.
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Know Thy Enemy continued...

"Swimmer's ear is easier to get," he says. "Excessive water in the ear canal breaks down the protective barriers in the ear and allows bacteria to get into the ear," he explains.

It is marked by one to two days of progressive ear pain that is worsened by chewing or when the ear is being pulled. Itching, pus, and discharge often follow.

Swimmer's itch, also called cercarial dermatitis, is marked by tingling, burning, or itching of the skin, small reddish pimples, and/or small blisters that appear within minutes to days after swimming in contaminated water. This skin rash is primarily caused by exposure to parasites or their larvae in fresh and salt water. According to the CDC, hot tub rash, or dermatitis, is an infection of the skin in which the skin may become itchy and progress to a bumpy, red rash that may become tender. There may also be pus-filled blisters that are usually found surrounding hair follicles. The rash is usually caused by the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa. It usually occurs within a few days of swimming in poorly maintained hot tubs or spas, but it can also be spread by swimming in a contaminated pool or lake.

An Ounce of Prevention...

Many people say that adding chlorine to a pool can kill all potentially disease-causing germs, and that's true -- to a degree. Chlorine in properly disinfected pools kills most germs that can cause RWIs in less than an hour, but it takes longer to kill some germs, such as cryptosporidium, which can survive for days in even a properly disinfected pool.

"The best way to prevent diarrhea is not to swallow water," Greene says. Also, don't swim when you have diarrhea because you can spread germs in the water and make other people sick. Take a shower before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers because germs on your body end up in the water.

By contrast, risk factors for swimmer's ear may include swimming/diving; perspiration; high humidity; mechanical trauma such as removal of wax, use of cotton dabs, and fingernails; hearing aids or headphones; drying soap or shampoo; and a history eczema and psoriasis, Greene says.

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