Healthy Swimming

Contest Raised Awareness about Preventing Recreational Water Illnesses

Pools are great places to spend the summer, but they are also places where germs can spread. Germs in the water can cause recreational water illnesses (RWIs), such as diarrhea and skin, ear, and eye infections, when we swim. To help prevent the spread of germs that cause RWIs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s Healthy Swimming Program launched its first-ever video contest to encourage the public to create short, original videos that promote healthy swimming behaviors.

The Winner:

Winning video by David Matthews

Recreational Water Illness Police by David Matthews, Vicksburg, MS

Forty-nine videos were submitted to CDC, and CDC judges selected the top five videos based on communication of healthy swimming messages, creativity and appeal to a wide audience. The top five videos were posted on CDC's YouTube channel and the public voted for the winner. The winning video, entitled Recreational Water Illness Police was created by David Matthews, Vicksburg, MS. Matthews will receive $1,000 from the CDC Foundation and the chance for his video to be seen by thousands on CDC's Healthy Swimming Website and CDC's YouTube Channel. An unrestricted grant from ARCH Chemicals to the CDC Foundation provided the funding for the contest winner. "The videos were informative, creative, humorous and well-produced," says Michael Beach, Ph.D., CDC's associate director for healthy water. "With outbreaks of illness at recreational facilities like water parks and swimming pools on the rise, we believe involving the public is critical and that this video contest is an innovative way to educate the public on what they can do to stay healthy when they swim." Videos submitted had to be 60 seconds or less in length and include four healthy swimming messages:

  • Protect yourself and other swimmers from RWIs - illnesses caused by germs that are found in places where we swim.
  • Chlorine does not kill all germs instantly.
  • Never swim when you have diarrhea.
  • When swimming, keep water out of your mouth.

Despite the use of chlorine and filtration systems, outbreaks of RWIs have increased in the past 10 years. RWIs can be skin, ear, respiratory, eye and wound infections, but the most common RWI is diarrhea. In the past decade, reports indicate that more than 20,000 people have been affected by outbreaks of diarrheal illness linked to swimming pools and other disinfected swimming venues, such as water parks. CDC scientists, however, estimate that the number of affected individuals could be substantially higher. Swimmers share the water with everyone who is at the pool. Someone with diarrhea can easily contaminate the pool with fecal matter. Germs that cause diarrheal illness can be spread when swimmers swallow contaminated water. Chlorine kills most germs that cause diarrhea within minutes, but Cryptosporidium (or "Crypto" for short) can survive for days, even in a properly disinfected pool. The CDC Foundation connects CDC with outside partners, including ARCH Chemicals, Inc., to launch and expand CDC programs designed to educate pool operators, public health officials and the public on how to prevent RWIs to ensure that swimming remains a healthy recreational activity. Learn more about CDC's Healthy Swimming program.

Amy Tolchinsky is a senior communications officer for the CDC Foundation.