Swimming & Diarrhea

Diarrhea is one of the most common illnesses linked to recreational waters. You can get sick with diarrhea by swallowing contaminated water in pools, hot tubs, lakes, rivers or the ocean.

Germs are found in the places we swim and can cause a variety of illnesses. 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. Visit our RECREATIONAL WATER ILLNESSES webpage for more information.

The CDC identifies diarrhea as the most common recreational water illness. People who have diarrhea can spread it to others when they swim. 

People typically have about 0.14 grams of poop (similar to a few grains of sand) on their bodies at any given time. When a person who is sick with diarrhea gets in the water, that tiny amount of poop on their body can wash into the water around them and contaminate it with germs. If someone else swallows the contaminated water, they can become infected (CDC).

Do your part to protect yourself and others when swimming:

  • Don’t swim if you are ill.
  • Diarrhea & swimming don’t mix! Don’t swim or let your kids swim when sick with diarrhea. 
  • Don’t swallow the water you swim in! 1 mouthful of water w/germs can make you sick for 2-3 weeks. 
  • Shower with soap and water BEFORE and AFTER swimming.