Healthy, Safe Swimming

By Anthony Carotenuto, Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center

Healthy Swimming
Sailors from the U.S. Navy and the Royal Australian navy dive into the pool to start the second heat of the 200-meter freestyle relay during a Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) international swim meet. The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans. (Department of Defense photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth/Released)

After a cold winter for many it finally appears that spring is here. Temperatures are slowly rising and so are thoughts of swimming at the beach or diving into a pool.

Swimming is a fun physical activity with many health benefits. However, we want to make sure we are aware of the illnesses and injuries associated with swimming and, more importantly, how they can be avoided. Healthy swimming is no accident.

Memorial Day, the target day when the majority of public swimming pools and beaches open, is just around the corner and millions of people are looking forward to the start of the summer swim season.

Although swimming is a physical activity that offers numerous health benefits, recreational water (for example, pool water) can also spread germs that cause illness. This is why the week before Memorial Day has been designated National Recreational Water Illness and Injury (RWII) Prevention Week.

RWII Prevention Week 2014 will take place May 19–25, 2014, marking the 10th anniversary of this observance. Every year RWII Prevention Week creates a new theme that focuses on specific issues and steps that water venue operators and swimmers can take to help ensure a healthy and safe experience by minimizing the risks.

The theme for RWII Prevention Week 2014 is Healthy and Safe Swimming: We’re In It Together.  It focuses on the role of swimmers, aquatics and beach staff, residential pool owners, and public health officials, in preventing drowning, pool chemical injuries and outbreaks of illnesses. It also highlights swimmer hygiene and the need for swimmers to take an active role in helping to protect themselves and prevent the spread of germs.

Preventing RWIIs is a multifaceted issue that requires active managerial participation from pool staff, swimmers, safety officials and medical departments. Poor maintenance can result in low disinfectant levels that can allow the spread of a variety of germs that cause diarrhea as well as skin and respiratory illnesses. The pool staff alone cannot completely stop these complex problems. The patrons of these aquatic venues also play a key role in preventing RWIIs.  How?  Remember the acronym “LAAPS”!  Look.  Ask. Act. Practice. Safety. As patrons we need to assist the staff and get ourselves involved when we notice issues.  A fact sheet that has been developed by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) details how you can put LAAPS into effect:  http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/pdf/swimming/resources/pool-user-tips-factsheet.pdf.

The CDC has created a couple of apps to help us all be better educated stewards of pool safety. Their Healthy Swimming and Solve the Outbreak apps are available for iPod® or iPhone® and can be found at: http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/resources/apps.html.

Pool inspectors, operators or lifeguards can have the latest information at their fingertips to answer patron questions. Learn about the germs that we all bring into the places we swim, how they could make you and others sick, and how you can take a few easy and effective steps to help protect yourself and others.

Inspections of pools and spas can be very complicated when performed correctly. The risks to bather’s health and safety come from a myriad of possibilities. Inspectors should visualize the pool as a matrix of items that converge into one. Our inspectors must be prepared to engage several scientific disciplines.  They need to incorporate microbiology, mathematics, chemistry, engineering, risk communication, and how all of these disciplines relate to public health. Inspectors, operators, and patrons cannot totally ensure pool safety. It is a collaborative effort.

Pool operators must ensure their venues are working in a manner to ensure the preventions of RWIIs.  Pool inspectors must be educated on what are the critical components of how to properly perform an oversight inspection of these aquatic venues and make proper and timely recommendations to the operators.

Finally, pool patrons are key players making certain the water we swim and play in is safe for us and our families. We all share in this responsibility. This year, take a few minutes to improve your knowledge in preventing RWIIs no matter what role you play.