SIOUX CITY -- Microscopic parasites and pathogens lurking in the waters of swimming pools, splash pads, lakes and other recreational bodies of water could put a damper on your summer.
Cases of recreational water illnesses (RWIs), which affect a person's stomach and intestines, skin or respiratory system, have risen over the past 20 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with reports of of diarrhea-causing RWIs increasing by as much as 200 percent since 2004.
People become infected with cryptosporidium, escherichia coli, shigella -- a contagious bacterial disease -- and giardia, a germ that can survive up to 45 minutes in properly chlorinated pools, when open wounds come into contact with infected water or if they swallow or inhale the water.
Public health officials from 32 states and Puerto Rico reported 90 recreational water-associated outbreaks for 2011 and 2012, the most recent years data was available, to the CDC's Waterbourne Disease and Outbreak Surveillance System.
Sixty-nine of the outbreaks involved treated recreational water. Of those cases, 36 were caused by cryptosporidium; and 21 were caused by escherichia coli, a rod-shaped bacterium. In total, 1,788 people were sicked, 95 were hospitalized and one person died.
Tyler Brock, Siouxland District Health Department deputy director, said abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting are classic signs of RWIs.
"There's a variety of different pathogens, both bacteria and parasites, that can be caught in recreational waters -- swimming pools, lakes and other things. Ninety-nine percent of what we focus on is staying out of the pool when you've got stomach problems," he said.
Brock urges people to avoid recreational waters when they have diarrhea or vomiting. He said parents of toddlers should check their child's diaper often and take them to the bathroom regularly when swimming and frolicking in the water.
To help prevent swimmer's itch, the Iowa DNR said people should avoid swimming or wading in marshy areas where snails are commonly found, reduce the amount of time in the water, avoid beaches that have been pounded by waves over the past few days and quickly rinse or dry off after getting out of the lake. Applying waterproof sunscreen has been reported to help protect skin from swimmer's itch.
The welts and itching caused by the flatworm can last for several days. You can treat the affected areas with an antihistamine and calamine lotion, according to the Iowa DNR.