State Health Department Urges Caution Following Heavy Rains

July 3, 2012

Virginians Reminded to be Mindful of Recreational Water Hazards

(Richmond, Va.) In the aftermath of severe weather, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reminds people to take precautions when enjoying recreational water activities. During a heavy rainfall, animal waste and inadequately treated wastewater from sewage treatment plants that become overloaded by an excess of rainwater can end up in rivers, lakes and streams, posing risks to human health.

“Heavy rains like the ones we have recently seen in Virginia can increase the risk of contamination in natural waters,” said State Epidemiologist David Trump, MD, MPH. “So it is especially important for people to take steps to stay safe when enjoying recreational water activities at this time.”

The most common waterborne illnesses are gastrointestinal and may cause vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain or fever. These illnesses result from swallowing water contaminated by disease-causing microbiological organisms. Contact with contaminated water can also cause upper respiratory (ear, nose and throat) and wound infections.

VDH offers the following safety tips for people planning to swim, kayak, canoe, or go rafting in Virginia’s natural waters after heavy rains:

  • Avoid getting water in your mouth. Never swallow water from an untreated water source.
  • Don’t swim if you have an open wound. Bacteria, viruses and other organisms can infect open wounds and cause more serious illness.
  • Remember to shower with soap and water after swimming.
  • Do not swim when you are ill.
  • Avoid swimming if dead fish are present. To report a fish kill, contact the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) at (804) 698-4000.

For more information regarding recreational water safety tips visit