Recreational Water Illness (RWI)
RWI's are illnesses that are spread by swallowing, breathing or having contact with contaminated water from swimming pools, spas, lakes, rivers or oceans. RWIs can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections. The most common reported recreational water illness is diarrhea. Diarrheal illnesses can be caused by germs such as Crypto (short for Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, norovirus and E. coli O157:H7.
Why is it important to know about RWIs?
Did you know that swimming is the second most popular exercise activity in the United States, with approximately 360 million annual visits to recreational water venues such as pools, spas, wading pools, water slides and other swimming places? On average, people have about 0.14 grams of feces on their bottoms which, when rinsed off, can contaminate recreational water. Unfortunately, the number of Recreational Water Illnesses (RWIs) are increasing and there is low public awareness of the problem. The City of Wichita Environmental Health Division would like to be at the forefront with efforts to combat RWIs this swim season and provide the information only a click away.
How are RWIs spread?
Swimmers who are ill with diarrhea can often carry germs which can contaminate the water if an accident occurs in the pool. If someone swallows water that has been contaminated with feces, he/she may become sick. Many of these diarrhea-causing germs do not have to be swallowed in large amounts to cause illness.
Many other RWIs (skin, ear, eye, respiratory, neurologic, wound, and other infections) are caused by germs that live naturally in the environment (water, soil). In the pool or hot tub, if disinfectant is not maintained at the appropriate levels, these germs can increase to the point where they can cause illness when swimmers breathe or have contact with water containing these germs.
Who is affected by RWIs?
The real answer is everyone who uses a pool or spa can be at risk. Children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems can suffer more severe from illness if infected.
How are RWIs prevented?
Properly maintaining pools and educating staff swimmers help keep RWIs out of aquatic facilities. By following the 6 Steps for Healthy Swimming, swimmers can help keep themselves and everyone else safe.