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Waterborne Diseases

Hygiene

Hygiene refers to behaviors that can improve cleanliness and lead to good health, such as frequent hand washing, face washing, and bathing with soap and water. Good hygiene can help prevent the spread of a majority of recreational water illnesses and also help in the control of many other diseases. Many diseases can be spread if the body is not washed appropriately at regular intervals.

Handwashing

Keeping hands clean is one of the most important parts of bodily hygiene. Proper hand sanitation can drastically reduce the risk of getting sick and spreading illnesses to others.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing your hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds. If soap or clean, running water are not available, use an alcohol-based product containing at least 60% alcohol to clean hands.

Alcohol based hand sanitizers significantly reduce the number of pathogens on the skin. In the absence of clean running water and soap, hand sanitizers are an effective way of maintaining hand sanitation. However, some pathogens, like Cryptosporidium, are not killed by alcohol based hand sanitizers.

For more information on keeping hands clean, please refer to CDC's Keeping Hands Clean page.

Recreational Water Hygiene

It is important to avoid swallowing the water from a recreational water source because natural recreational water is not disinfected. Avoid swimming after rainfalls or in areas identified as unsafe by health departments.

To ensure the prevention of recreational water illnesses, CDC makes the following recommendations:

  • Don't swim when you have diarrhea. You can spread germs in the water and make other people sick.
  • Don't swallow the pool water. Avoid getting water in your mouth.
  • Practice good hygiene. Shower with soap before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Germs on your body end up in the water.
  • Take your kids on bathroom breaks or check diapers often. Waiting to hear "I have to go" may mean that it's too late.
  • Change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area and not at poolside. Germs can spread in and around the pool.
  • Wash your child thoroughly (especially the rear end) with soap and water before swimming. Invisible amounts of fecal matter can end up in the pool.

Hygiene Etiquette

While hygiene is usually understood to be proper hand and body washing, hygiene etiquette is an important part of disease prevention. Numerous airborne and waterborne diseases can be prevented by these simple practices:

  • Coughing and sneezing into your elbow, shoulder, or a cloth. Many pathogens require the human body to survive and die when left on cloth.
  • Washing hands regularly
  • Avoiding animal waste and animals with open wounds
  • Avoiding eating around animals
  • Avoiding undercooked meat
  • Avoiding contact with wild animals
  • Avoiding contact with dead wild animals

Contact with some animals, such as turtles and chicks, has been shown to increase the risk of disease in small children and people with compromised immune system.

For more information regarding hygiene etiquette, please refer to CDC's Hygiene Etiquette page.