Swimming and other recreational activities are an excellent way to get physically active and thus receive many health benefits. Wisconsin is home to many recreational waters that are perfect for swimming. It is important to be safe and healthy while swimming, and minimize the risk of illness and injury.
Injuries from pool chemicals led to nearly 5,000 emergency room visits nationally in 2012. Chemicals are added to pool water to kill disease-causing germs, maximize the efficacy of the disinfection process (for example, pH control), improve water quality, stop corrosion and scaling of equipment, and protect against algal growth. However, pool chemicals can also lead to injury when mixed together or when appropriate personal protective equipment is not used during handling. For more information, see Pool Safety.
Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) can be caused by germs and bacteria in the waters that we swim in. People can be exposed through accidental ingestion of water, breathing in aerosols from the water, or just coming into contact with the contaminated water. For more information, see Waterborne Illness or Common Causes of Recreational Water Illnesses.
Wisconsin's Harmful Algal Blooms Program collects information about human and animal illness and death resulting from exposure to blue-green algae. Tracking illness information will help the Wisconsin Division of Public Health measure the problem of blue-green algae in our lakes and rivers. Learn more.
Swimmer's itch is a skin rash caused by a parasite, which ordinarily infects birds, semi-aquatic mammals, and snails. People normally come into contact with the parasite when they swim in infected water, and can develop a rash within one to two hours. Swimmer's itch in Wisconsin is most common in late May and early June, but can occur throughout the summer. For more information, see the Swimmer's Itch fact sheet P-42094 (PDF, 24 KB).
Rip currents are areas of water flowing away from shoreline that can cause swimmers to be pulled away from the beach, out into open water. Rip currents, also mistakenly called rip tides or undertows, form in areas where water is unevenly distributed along the shore, usually due to sand bars or the wind. For more information on rip currents, see the the rip currents page.
Drowning is a leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, it ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States and kills more toddlers 1-4 years old than anything but birth defects. Across the country, about ten people die every day from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children 14 or younger. The good news is that most of these deaths are predictable and preventable. Being aware of the risks and taking safety precautions are proven ways to prevent drowning injuries and deaths. Learn the facts and take action to protect yourself and the ones you love from drowning.
For more information, visit the CDC's Healthy Swimming page for information on recreational illnesses, drowning prevention, and other recreational water tips.