On a sunny warm day, most people would not think twice about wading into the ocean, jumping off a dock into a lake, or taking a dip in a river to cool off and enjoy nature. Whether you are kayaking, paddle boarding, or just floating downstream in an inner tube, few activities can compare to the relaxation and enjoyment a day on the water provides. Most people know that as beautiful and clear a body of water may be, that drinking directly out of that water is a bad idea because of the invisible bacteria and other contaminants it may contain. But no one usually stops to think about how their skin might absorb these microbes or pollutants before entering the water, and in some cases that has had led to severe illness and even deadly outcomes.
There are a variety of bacteria, amoeba, and other organisms that can flourish in waterways and pose a threat to human health, from E. coli to brain eating amoeba to “Swimmer’s Itch” or Duck Itch parasites. According to a new study published in the Scientific Reports journal, flesh-eating bacteria may become more common in waterways in the U.S. due to climate change. While the bacteria are usually found in southern waters along the Gulf coast that are warm and brackish, scientists have found that there has been an increase of infections from Vibrio vulnificus in more northern locations stretching along the eastern seaboard as far as New York.
Cyanobacteria, or harmful algae blooms, are another threat that can make humans and pets ill. Some species of blue-green algae can even produce toxins that can kill a dog within minutes of exposure. Found in freshwater and saltwater, cyanobacteria blooms can be foul-smelling and may appear as discolored water, scum, foam, or mats of algae-like growth on the surface of the water. Not all blue-green algae produce toxins, but exposure to cyanotoxins can cause allergic reactions, gastrointestinal upset, eye irritation, respiratory distress, and flu-like symptoms.
To reduce risk of illness from water-borne bacteria and other contaminants, take extra precautions before entering a lake, river, ocean, etc. and:
- Avoid shaving before going in the water. Shaving can create micro-cuts in the skin that are plenty big enough for bacteria to enter.
- Check for any cuts, scrapes, blisters, or other damage to skin and cover any areas discovered with a waterproof bandage. DrySee waterproof bandages have a color-changing gauze that alerts you if the seal of the bandage is compromised so you can clean the wound and apply a new bandage, helping to limit exposure risks.
- Research the waterway you will be recreating in on local wildlife, game and fish websites, or other government information sites, to find out if any warnings have recently been issued about possible contamination or outbreaks.
- Don’t enter fresh waterways when the temperature is warm and water levels are low, conditions that are prime for increased levels of bacteria and contamination.
- Avoid digging or stirring up sediment at the bottom of waterways.
- Limit the amount of water entering the nose and mouth by keeping your head above water, wearing a nose plug, or holding your nose shut when underwater.
- Survey water conditions before entering the water or letting pets enter the water and avoid any areas that look like they are experiencing a large growth of algae or that have a bad odor.
By Brad Greer, CEO DrySee