Waterborne Hazards Control

Welcome to Waterborne Hazards Control

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) urges beachgoers and those using and maintaining swimming pools, spas, and water parks to focus on simple steps that can be taken to help ensure a healthy and safe swimming experience for everyone.

Information available through the links below describes the role of swimmers, aquatics and beach staff, residential pool owners, and public health officials in preventing drowning, swimming-related injuries, and waterborne illnesses. Click to learn more about swimmer hygiene and how you can take an active role to protect yourself while swimming and prevent the spread of germs.

 

Beach Monitoring

Bacteria levels in beach water are monitored at 46 public beaches in Virginia on the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean during the swimming season (May-September). Water samples are collected weekly by Local Health Departments and analyzed by local laboratories for enterococci bacteria. If bacteria levels exceed Virginia’s Water   Quality Standard of 104 colony forming units (cfu)/100 mL of water, a swimming advisory is issued.

Please click on the Beach Advisory Map for current swimming advisories. Enterococci bacteria serve as an indicator for fecal contamination in salt and brackish waters. These organisms are not harmful themselves, but indicate that other potentially harmful organisms may be present. High levels of enterococci bacteria indicate an increased health risk to recreational water users.The most common recreational water illnesses are gastrointestinal and may cause vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain or fever. These illnesses result from swallowing water contaminated by disease-causing organisms. Contact with contaminated water can also cause upper respiratory (ear, nose and throat), and wound infections. Young children, the elderly, and those with a weakened immune system are particularly vulnerable to recreational water illnesses.

You can help to protect your health while swimming at the beach by taking these simple steps:

  • Observe Swimming Advisories; do not enter the water at a beach under a swimming advisory.
  • Avoid swallowing water when swimming; natural waters may contain disease-causing organisms that can cause gastrointestinal illness if swallowed.
  • Avoid swimming for a few days after heavy rainfall; bacteria levels are likely to be high and disease-causing organisms are more likely to be present after rainfall due to pollution from land runoff and other sources.
  • Prevent direct contact of cuts and open wounds with recreational water; natural waters may contain disease-causing organisms that may cause skin infections.
  • Avoid swimming in areas where dead fish are present; dead fish may indicate that water conditions are poor or hazardous materials are in the water. Please contact the Department of Environmental Quality (703-583-3800) if you observe a fish kill.
  • Don’t swim if you are ill or have a weakened immune system; some organisms are opportunistic and may only cause illness when you are already ill or your immune system is weakened.
  • Shower with soap after swimming; showering helps remove potential disease-causing organisms.
  • Swim away from fishing piers, pipes, drains, and water flowing from storm drains onto a beach.
  • Do not dispose of trash, pet waste, or dirty diapers on the beach.

Beach Water Quality

VDH monitors beach water quality at 46 public beaches in Virginia on the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean during the swimming season (May-September). Water samples are collected weekly and analyzed by laboratories for fecal indicator bacteria.  If bacteria levels exceed safe levels, a swimming advisory is issued to inform beachgoers that swimming is not recommended.

Fecal indicator bacteria serve as an indicator for fecal contamination in brackish and salt waters. These organisms are not harmful themselves, but indicate that other potentially harmful organisms may be present.  High levels of fecal indicator bacteria indicate an increased health risk to recreational water users.

Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)

Algae are naturally-occurring microscopic organisms that are found in fresh and salt waters of Virginia and around the world.  Many are beneficial because they are major producers of oxygen and food for many of the animals that live in these waters.

Most algae do not harm people, wildlife, or the environment.  But some types of algae in Virginia can be dangerous.  Algae species in fresh and salt water may multiply rapidly when environmental conditions are favorable for their development.  The great number of algal cells in the water results in what is called an algal bloom.

A bloom often (but not always) results in a color change in the water. Algal blooms can be any color, but the most common ones are red or brown and are known as either “red” or “brown” tides.  Most algal blooms are not harmful but some do affect fish and humans, as well as other animals like birds and marine mammals. These are known as Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). If water is discolored, murky, has an odor, or if there appears to be a film on the water surface, swimming is not advised for humans or pets. Please submit your observations of algae or a fish kill using our HAB online report form so the HAB Task Force can conduct surveillance of the area.

To report health effects contact the HAB Hotline: 1-888-238-6154

U.S. EPA - Algal Blooms Can Harm Your Health

 

If you are concerned that you have been exposed to a harmful algal bloom, please see your doctor or call your local health department. Telling your doctor about contact with water may help him/her treat the illness properly.

Safe Swimming

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) urges beachgoers and those using and maintaining swimming pools, spas, and water parks to focus on simple steps that can be taken to help ensure a healthy and safe swimming experience for everyone.

Information available through the links below describes the role of swimmers, aquatics and beach staff, residential pool owners, and public health officials in preventing drowning, swimming-related injuries, and waterborne illnesses.

Swimming in Natural Waters Prevention

To prevent illness and injury when swimming in natural waters by following these steps:

  • Avoid swimming in natural waters for a few days after a heavy rain event.
  • Avoid swallowing water when swimming.
  • Avoid getting water shot up your nose when swimming, especially in warm shallow water.
  • Avoid swimming or wading in with open wounds or cuts.
  • Look for posted signs near the swimming area.
  • Don’t swim in areas where there are dead fish present.
  • Don’t swim if you are ill.
  • Shower with soap and clean water after swimming.
  • Avoid swimming in muddy water of lakes, ponds, and rivers.
  • Avoid swimming in unfamiliar ponds, streams, creeks, ditches, and canals.
  • Be aware of local weather conditions prior to recreational activities and watch for dangerous waves and signs of rip currents.

 

Healthy and Safe Swimming Week 2019

The week before Memorial Day, May 20–26, 2019, marks the fifteenth annual Healthy and Safe Swimming Week. Nationwide, communities will be collaborating and engaging in discussion about how to maximize the health benefits of water-based physical activity while minimizing the risk of recreational water–associated illness and injury.

Working together, we can help to prevent people from getting sick from waterborne illness.

 

Additional Resources:

Healthy and Safe Swimming Week Virtual Toolkit This toolkit contains links to CDC and other partners, as well as all the VDH brochures, posters, and information in one convenient location.

CDC- Healthy Swimming Visit this website for more information on how to enjoy swimming safely. You can also access and download a variety of health promotion materials, including brochures, fact sheets, info-graphics, and more.

CDC- Healthy and Safe Swimming Week Healthy and Safe Swimming Week is celebrated nationwide! Visit this webpage for information on the history of this week and to learn more about recreational water illnesses (RWIs).

Healthy Swimming Pledge

Want to help children and teens stay safe and healthy while swimming?  Have them take the Healthy Swimming Pledge!  The pledge includes tips and recommendations as well as a section to draw a picture of how they plan to enjoy the water safely this summer.  Take a snapshot of your picture and use the #swimhealthyva hashtag to share your pledge to help others learn how to swim healthy and stay healthy!

Additional resources for children:

Bobber and Josh’s Water Safety Tips

Keep Kids Healthy Poster

Pool Safely Poster

Adventures of Splish and Splash Interactive Game

Recreational Water Illnesses

Germs in the places we swim can cause a variety of illnesses, including gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and wound infections. Germs can get into the water in different ways: when they wash off of swimmers’ bodies, when swimmers have diarrheal incidents in the water, and even when rainwater runs off near local beaches and swim areas. Three of the most common germs that cause waterborne illnesses in Virginia are Cryptosporidium, Giardia, and Vibrio.

 

Prevent recreational water illnesses by following these simple steps.

  • Don’t swim when you have diarrhea. Just one diarrheal incident can release enough germs into the water that swallowing a mouthful can cause diarrhea lasting 2-3 weeks.
  • Don’t swallow pool water, and don’t drink water directly from streams, lakes, or other bodies of water.
  • Practice good hygiene. Shower with soap before swimming and wash your hands with soap after using the toilet or changing diapers. Germs on your body end up in the water.
  • Avoid exposing open wounds or cuts to salt or brackish water. If exposed, wash the affected area right away with soap and clean water.
  • If you become ill, visit your primary healthcare provider.

 

Crytosporidium

Cryptosporidium (commonly known as “Crypto”), the leading cause of disease outbreaks linked to pools, is a parasite that can survive in properly chlorinated pools for more than 10 days. Crypto is spread by swallowing water polluted with fecal matter containing Crypto. Symptoms of Crypto include watery diarrhea and abdominal cramping, and can last one to two weeks. People at greatest risk for severe illness include young children, pregnant women, and individuals with weakened immune systems. In 2011–2012, >70 outbreaks linked to pools, water playgrounds, and hot tubs/spas were detected in the United States. Half of these outbreaks were caused by Crypto.
Giardia

Giardia is another parasite that can cause diarrheal illness; it can make anyone sick. It can survive for up to 45 minutes even in properly chlorinated pools. Giardia is spread by swallowing water polluted with fecal matter containing Giardia. People infected with Giardia may have no symptoms at all, or may experience a mild illness or severe diarrhea. Diarrhea can last for several weeks or months, leading to weight loss and dehydration.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection is caused by strains of bacteria found widely in the environment; the most common type causing infections in humans is called Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This Germ can live in pools and are the most common cause of swimmer’s ear and Hot tub rash.

Swimmer’s ear is an infection that can occur if contaminated water stays in the ear canal for a long time. Swimmer’s ear is common in children and swimmers of all ages. It results in an estimated 2.4 million health care visits per year & nearly half a billion dollars in health care costs. This illness occurs when water stays in the ear canal for long periods of time, providing the perfect environment for Pseudomonas to grow and infect the skin in the ear. Germs, most especially P. aeruginosa, found in recreational water venues are one of the most common causes of swimmer’s ear. Keep ears as dry as possible.

Hot tub rash, also caused by P. aeruginosa, can affect people of all ages. It is an infection that can occur if contaminated water comes in contact with skin for a long time. Symptoms could include Itchy spots on the skin that become a bumpy red rash which is worse in areas that were previously covered by a swimsuit. The rash could also present with Pus-filled blisters around hair follicles. Most hot tub rashes clear up in a few days without medical treatment. Lower your risk of hot tub rash! Remove your swimsuit and shower with soap after getting out of the water.

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