Environmental Health
Surface Water (Lakes, Rivers & Streams)
Swimming in Thurston County
 
  Swimming Illnesses & Hazards  
 
 

What's in the Water? [click pictures for a larger view]

 
 

Photo of algae in lakeBlue-Green Algae ó Most blooms are non-toxic, but some produce toxins which can cause illness in pets and livestock after drinking lake water. Find out about the types of algae that can cause blue-green algae blooms, any local toxic blue-green algae advisories in effect, how to become an algae watch volunteer, as well as other useful information....more

 
 

Photo of a bryozoanBryozoans ó Wondering what those large jelly-like blobs are in the lake?...more

 
 

Photo of 2 leechesLeeches ó Common in shallow, weedy shoreline areas of many lakes and streams. Learn how to remove one, if you find one on your skin....more

 
 

Photo of swimmer's itch rashSwimmer's Itch ó A skin irritation caused by small parasites that burrow under the skin, found in lakes throughout Washington. ...more

 
 

Avoid Contaminating Others

There is some risk of disease transmission when swimming in lakes and streams, but there are many steps you can take to reduce the risk. To avoid becoming a contamination source to others, follow these simple steps:

  • Shower before you swim, if possible.
  • Do not swim, or allow family members to swim, if currently ill with a gastrointestinal illness (vomiting or diarrhea), or have been ill within the last two days.
  • Keep children who are not toilet trained out of the water.
  • Do not allow children with dirty diapers in the water.
  • Do not swim if you have a skin infection.
  • Keep pets off the beach and out of the swimming areas.

If you are informed and practice these risk-reduction techniques, you can relax and enjoy the summer at your favorite swimming beach. And, please, share this information with others, so they, too, can enjoy the elements.

What Are the Symptoms?

Report any of the following to the Thurston County Disease Reporting line at 360-867-2643

  • Illness occurring within two days of swimming: This includes yourself, a family member or group member that swam. Also notify your healthcare provider.
  • Swimmer's itch symptoms: Include burning and itching of infected skin within 5 minutes to an hour after leaving the water, and small reddish pimples within 12 hours.
  • Toxic blue-green algae symptoms: Similar to waterborne illness, but can also include numbness of the lips, tingling in the fingers and toes, and dizziness.

Prevent Swimming-Related Injuries and Illness

Here are some key things you can do to reduce your risk of  injury and illness and make your trip to the beach safe and pleasant for your family:

  • Prevent drowning. Know where safety equipment, such as ring buoys and reaching poles, are located. Make sure personal floatation devices are available and are worn when boating. These are especially important for persons using canoes, inflatable boats, jet skis, and other watercraft. Carefully supervise young children and poor swimmers when near the water.
  • Avoid areas where there are obvious sources of pollution nearby. These include sewage discharge or stormwater pipes, as well as livestock or other animals nearby. There are many bacteria, viruses and parasites that cause disease in humans that can come from fecal matter from humans and animals (both wild and domestic).
  • Avoid large crowds of bathers. The larger the number of swimmers, the higher the risk of illness transmission.
  • Donít swallow swimming water. Itís probably impossible to avoid swallowing some water while swimming, but the less you swallow, the less likely youíll consume enough to make you sick.
  • After swimming, wash your hands before eating.
  • Protect yourself from swimmerís itch. Avoid swimming in areas where there is evidence of ducks and geese. Apply a good waterproof sunscreen prior to entering the water. And use a towel to dry off immediately after swimming.
  • Avoid small, shallow ponds. These areas are frequently very biologically rich with bacteria and parasites, which can cause illness in humans.
  • Avoid swimming in areas where there are obvious algae blooms. Some blue-green algae produce toxins, which have caused illness in pets and livestock. Keep children and pets out of the water when an algae bloom is present. For more information, see Toxic Blue-Green Algae [PDF].

Report Swimming-Related Illnesses

  • General waterborne illness: Symptoms may be visible from 1 day up to 4 weeks after being exposed and include: cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, headache, and/or eye, ear and skin infections.
  • Swimmer's itch symptoms: Include burning and itching of infected skin within 5 minutes to an hour after leaving the water, and small reddish pimples within 12 hours.
  • Toxic blue-green algae symptoms: Similar to waterborne illness, but can also include numbness of the lips, tingling in the fingers and toes, and dizziness.

Resources & Other Helpful Information

 
 
Contacts
  • Report algae blooms or swimming-related illness
    360-867-2626
  • General Questions
    360-867-2626
    Email
This page last updated: 08/05/13