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Diseases & Topics

Recreational Water Illnesses

Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are illnesses that are spread by swallowing, breathing mist from or having skin contact with contaminated water from swimming pools, water parks, spas and hot tubs, lakes, rivers or oceans, and even interactive or decorative water fountains.

RWIs include a wide variety of infections, including gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and wound infections. The most commonly reported RWI is diarrhea. Diarrheal illnesses are caused by germs such as crypto (short for Cryptosporidium), giardia, shigella, norovirus and E. coli O157:H7. Respiratory diseases caused by inhaling mist or vapor from contaminated water include Legionnaires' disease, or legionellosis.

Vibrio vulnificus and other marine vibrios are naturally occurring bacteria that can also infect wounds, as well as causing diarrheal illness. Vibrios are found in the ocean and warm coastal waters such as bays, estuaries and rivers near the ocean. People may get vibrio infections through injuries such as a puncture wound from fin fish or shellfish, exposure of open wounds to coastal waters, or by eating raw or improperly cooked shellfish, especially oysters. Symptoms of infected wounds include pain, swelling and redness that may quickly spread or blister. Eating vibrio-contaminated shellfish can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of vibrio infections is important to avoid severe complications.

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