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Tips to prevent Recreational Water Illness (RWI) this summer
Little Rock, Ark. – The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) encourages Arkansans to take some simple steps to stay healthy and prevent Recreational Water Illnesses (RWIs) while relaxing at the state’s rivers, lakes, streams, and ponds. RWIs are caused when people swallow water that is contaminated with common germs or bacteria, such as E. coli. People can also become sick when swimming during a harmful algal bloom (HAB).
To stay healthy while enjoying the water:
- Do not swallow water.
- Avoid swimming in algae.
- When in doubt, stay out.
You should avoid entering or playing in bodies of water that:
- Smell bad.
- Look discolored.
- Have foam, scum or algal mats on the surface.
- Contain dead fish or animals or if they are nearby (for example, do not enter a body of water if dead fish have washed up on its shore or beach).
Water quality can change quickly. In general, there is a higher risk of getting sick after a rainfall event or in cloudy water. Rainfall can wash contaminates into the water. Cloudy water due to runoff can contain contaminates that may be harmful. Not all of the contaminants can be seen by the naked eye.
Not all algae are harmful but some algae produce toxins that can make people and animals sick. It is not possible to tell if algae are producing toxins just by looking at the water. The size of the bloom is not related to the amount of toxins that could be present. Children and pets are at the greatest risk from swimming or drinking water when algae are present. You should never drink water when algae are present, even if you have filtered it first. Personal filter equipment and treatment options do not eliminate the risks associated with HABs. Never drink, cook or try to filter water affected by HABs.
Symptoms for RWIs include vomiting and diarrhea. If you believe you have gotten sick from recreational water use, contact the ADH Communicable Disease Nurses at 501-537-8969.
The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) routinely tests designated swim beaches for E. coli levels in the summer months and recommends closure when E. coli levels are too high. Swim beach closures can be found at both the ADH (https://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/programs-services/topics/arkansas-swim-beach-program) and Corp of Engineers (https://www.swl.usace.army.mil/) websites.