Recreational Facilities : Nova Scotia Labour and Advanced Education, Building and Equipment Safety

Protecting Against Recreational Water Illness

Recreational water illness are illnesses spread by contact with contaminated water in swimming pools and spas. Contaminated recreational water can cause a variety of illness such as diarrhea, and eye, skin, ear and respiratory infections. The most reported recreational water illness is diarrhea.

Diarrhea Recreational Water Illness

This illness is caused by microorganisms such as E.coli 0157.H7, Shigella, Giardia and Cryptosporidium (Crypto) that have entered the pool through fecal material that has washed off swimmers.

If a swimmer swallows water that has been contaminated with feces they may become ill.

Other Recreational Water Illnesses

Other recreational water illnesses, such as eye, skin, ear, and respiratory infections, are caused by microorganisms found naturally in the environment.

For instance, swimmers ear (ear ache) and swimmers rash are both caused by a bacteria (Pseudomonas aeruginosa) commonly found in the environment. Swimmers ear occurs when contaminated water gets into the ear and/or the outer ear canal. Most infections occur in children and young adults, but all age groups can be affected.

Swimmers rash is spread by direct contact with contaminated water and is the most common recreational water illness spread through spas and hot tubs, although it is spread through contaminated pools as well.

Pool operators, once aware of a recreational water illness, should immediately
  • contact their local Public Health Office to report the illness
  • make sure appropriate clean-up procedures are followed.

Making Your Pool Safe*

The best way to kill microorganisms in pool water is by measuring and adjusting the chlorine and pH levels. Pool staff must regularly check and adjust these levels as required.

Unfortunately, even in the best-maintained pools some organisms can survive for a long time. That's why it is especially important that both pool staff and patrons know what they should do to reduce the risk of recreational water illnesses.

Reducing the risk of recreational water illnesses

  • Educate pool staff on the proper way to maintain pool water quality (especially chlorine and pH) and to ensure equipment is operating correctly. Make sure pool staff or lifeguards are water testing and recording readings as required and that they know how to respond if disinfectant levels are not adequate.
  • Make sure that your pool operator has taken part in a training program given by aquatic professionals.
  • Educate all swimmers about ways they can prevent the spread of recreational water illnesses. Some things to teach them are:
    • Don't swim if they are ill or have diarrhea
    • Avoid swallowing pool water
    • Wash hands with soap and water after using the bathroom or changing diapers
  • Educate parents with young children about healthy behaviors like:
    • Taking their children to the bathroom often. It is often to late when they hear "I have to go"
    • Changing diapers in the bathroom and not at pool side. Bacteria can contaminate surfaces and objects around the pool and spread illness.
  • Create a recreational water illness policy pertaining to large groups of young children, including diaper use, and make sure that group leaders understand and follow it. Consider a short recreational water illness orientation for larger groups before they enter the pool.
*The increased temperatures of spas and hot tubs can cause the chlorine to evaporate more quickly than in a swimming pool. Therefore, it is important to check and adjust the chlorine or other disinfectant level more often than pools.