Water and pool safety

Recreational Water Illnesses

Many families will be visiting lakes, pools and water parks for recreation, fun and to simply cool off during the summer. While these are great places to be active, they’re also places where germs can be spread.

Contrary to popular belief, chlorine and other disinfectants do not kill germs instantly. While most germs are killed within minutes, Cryptosporidium can live for days. Before they are killed, these germs can cause illnesses, such as gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections. The most commonly reported recreational water illness is diarrhea, which is caused by germs such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, Norovirus and E. coli. Swallowing just a mouthful of water that contains these germs can make you sick.


Here are a few easy and effective steps all swimmers can take to prevent illnesses:

  • Stay out of the water if you have diarrhea.
  • Shower before you get in the water. 
  • Don’t pee or poop in the water. 
  • Don’t swallow the water.
  • Take kids on bathroom breaks.
  • Check diapers and change them in a bathroom or diaper-changing area — not poolside — to keep germs away from pool.
Pool inspection

Pictured at left: Environmental Health Supervisor Andrew Stull, of the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, said pools and water parks should not have a strong chemical smell. If you smell chlorine, what you're actually smelling is the chemicals that form when chlorine mixes with what comes from swimmers' bodies — pee, poop, sweat, dirt, skin cells and personal care products. These chemicals — not chlorine — can cause your eyes to get red and sting, make your nose run and make you cough.


According to the CDC, unintentional injury is the leading cause of death for Americans ages 1-44 years. Within the category of unintentional injury, drowning is a Top 10 cause of death. In 2016, Kansas had a rate 1.1 per 100,00 population of deaths due to drowning.

Of drowning victims who survive and are treated in emergency rooms, more than half are hospitalized or transferred for further care. These individuals often experience brain damage, which can cause memory problems, learning disabilities, or permanent loss of basic functioning.


Data Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Injury Prevention and Control. National Vital Statistics System, National Center for Health Statistics, CDC.  https://wisqars-viz.cdc.gov/.  Accessed on 6/5/2018

To prevent drowning

  • Designate an adult to watch children swimming or playing around water. Adults should not be involved in any other distracting activity.
  • Use life jackets appropriately. Don’t use air-filled or foam toys, such as noodles or inner tubes, instead of life jackets because they are not designed to keep swimmers safe.
  • Avoid alcohol when swimming, boating or supervising children.
  • Know the local weather conditions and forecast before swimming or boating.