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Swimming Safety: Preventing Diarrhea from Contaminated Water

Swimming areas such as swimming pools, water parks, rivers, lakes, and the ocean contain germs that may cause sickness.

Many parents have the false notion that pool water is sterilized by chlorine and so their kids have no risk of getting sick. Chlorine does a good job killing most germs, but it doesn't kill all of them. When contaminated pool water is swallowed, your child can get diarrhea that lasts from a few days to several weeks. This diarrhea can be serious, especially for young children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems.

A child or adult with infectious diarrhea can contaminate pool water even without having an "accident" in the water. Even 2 weeks after a person's diarrhea has stopped, he may still contaminate the water.


Reduce the risk to you, your child, and others of getting ill from pool and water activities by taking these precautions:

  • Don't swim if you or your child has diarrhea. People with diarrhea can spread germs in the water even without having an accident.
  • Don't allow your child to drink pool water. Remember, it's everybody's bath water and chlorine does not kill all germs.
  • Take your child on bathroom breaks often. If you wait to hear "I've gotta go," it may be too late.
  • Change diapers in a bathroom, not at poolside. Germs can contaminate surfaces and objects around the pool and spread disease.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after changing diapers and make sure that your child's hands are washed. Germs on hands and bottoms can end up everywhere, including the water.
  • Wash your child (especially his or her bottom) thoroughly with soap and water before swimming.
  • Tell the lifeguard if you see feces in the water or if you see behaviors, such as changing diapers at poolside, that may spread disease.
  • Don't count solely on swim diapers or pants to stop your child from having "accidents" leak into the pool. These products are not leakproof.
Developed by McKesson Provider Technologies and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2002-08-01
Last reviewed: 2006-08-22
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
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