Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2017;95(9):online

See related article on recreational waterborne illnesses

Can I catch a disease from swimming?

Swimming is usually a safe and healthy activity. It is possible to get sick from water that has germs in it by swallowing it or getting it in a cut. You can get infections from swimming pools, too, even if the water has been treated with chlorine. There are bacteria, viruses, and parasites in pools that can survive in treated water.

What kind of diseases can I catch?

Most people who get sick from swimming have diarrhea. It usually gets better on its own. It is also possible to catch pneumonia and bad skin infections from contaminated water.

When should I see my doctor?

Talk to your doctor if you have bloody diarrhea, diarrhea that lasts more than a week, or a cough with fever. See your doctor right away if you have more serious symptoms, such as fever and a stiff neck after swimming in a freshwater pond, or a bad skin infection with fever. Be sure to tell your doctor that you've been in the water.

How can I keep from getting sick?

  • Don't swallow water while in pools, hot tubs, fountains, lakes, rivers, springs, ponds, streams, or the ocean.

  • Don't drink untreated water from lakes, rivers, springs, ponds, streams, or shallow wells.

  • Pay attention to all warnings and posted signs about swimming and other water-based activities.

How can I help keep others from getting sick?

  • Don't go in the water if you have or are just getting over diarrhea. This is most important for children in diapers.

  • If you had an infection called giardiasis, do not swim for at least a week after diarrhea stops.

  • Shower before entering the water.

  • Wash children thoroughly (especially their bottoms) with soap and water after they use the bathroom or after their diapers are changed.

  • Take children on frequent bathroom breaks and check their diapers often.

  • Change diapers in the bathroom, not by the water.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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