Lakes and streams are natural bodies of water and for that reason can exhibit a wide range of water quality. Shoreline waters, including beaches, are subject to microbial (bacteria, viruses, protozoans, and worms) contamination, which can stem from multiple sources. Therefore, before people or their pets enter the water (swimming or wading), they should take an overall look at the conditions and use their own judgment as to whether they should be swimming that day. A few recommendations are:

• Avoid contact with lake water if the water is murky or has areas of scum.
• Avoid swimming or wading after a heavy rainfall because bacteria levels in the water may be elevated.
• Avoid areas where waterfowl congregate.

Due to recent concerns of a possible association between Staphylococcus (staph) skin and blood infections with recreational waters such as lakes and streams, Dr. Karen M. Landers, M.D., F.A.A.P., Assistant State Health Officer, Alabama Department of Public Health, provides the following facts.

1. Staph is not a common recreational waterborne illness. A person is more likely to contract a gastrointestinal illness such as salmonellosis, cryptosporidiosis, or giardiasis.

2. Staph (and Streptococcus -strep) are common skin flora and these bacteria can also be carried in the nose.

• Staph and strep will not live long in bodies of water even if a person has a staph or strep infection
• Staph and strep can spread person to person, and towels and other objects can become contaminated with the bacteria.

3. Good skin hygiene is important after all swimming because insect bites, abrasions, and other common disruptions of our natural skin barrier may occur more in the summer.

• Scratching or other trauma to skin lesions may lead to infections with normal body flora organisms such as staph and strep, progressing on to impetigo, furuncles, and, in extremely rare instances, systemic illness.
• Emphasize healthy recreational water use: showering, washing hands for general health and keeping ears dry in children to reduce swimmer’s ear.
• Do not swim with open sores, cuts and abrasions until skin lesions heal because this does not promote proper healing of the wound and may increase the wound’s risk for further contamination.
• Do not swim with diarrheal illnesses.
• Remember, children’s swim diapers are not waterproof. Use swimming diapers and change diapers often. Take children to bathroom breaks frequently.

8/11/15 – Alabama Department of Public Health

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