Dept. Health & Human Services offers tips on preventing water-related illnesses, enjoying water activities safely – OBX Today

Dept. Health & Human Services offers tips on preventing water-related illnesses, enjoying water activities safely - OBX Today

The Dare County Department of Health & Human Services would like to remind the public of the importance of preventing recreational water-related illnesses, in light of two recent unrelated cases of Vibrio, a recreational water illness (RWI), between July 20 and July 25, 2023.

RWIs are caused by germs or chemicals found in water bodies such as swimming pools, hot tubs, lakes, rivers, estuaries, and oceans. It is important to understand how to prevent these illnesses and enjoy water activities safely.

RWIs are infections that can be contracted by swallowing, breathing in, or having contact with contaminated water. The most common types of RWIs include gastrointestinal illnesses, skin infections, respiratory infections, and ear infections. These illnesses can be caused by various pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

“It’s important to remember bacteria is naturally in the water,” commented Sheila Davies, Director of Dare County Department of Health & Human Services. “When you consider we have had hundreds of thousands of visitors so far this summer and only two reported cases of water-related illnesses, the risk of getting sick to the general public remains very low. Commercial fishermen, specifically crabbers, are at a higher risk due to the nature of their job. It is essential for all to follow water safety recommendations to help minimize the risk of developing water-related illnesses.”

The Dare County Department of Health & Human Services recommends the following safety tips:

  1. Don’t swim if you’re sick. If you have diarrhea or any other contagious illness, avoid swimming or entering any recreational water facilities. This will help prevent the contamination of water and the spread of germs.
  2. Don’t swim if you have a compromised immune system or open wounds. People with weakened immune systems should consult their healthcare provider before participating in recreational water activities, such as swimming. Open wounds such as cuts, scrapes, and recent tattoos can leave you more susceptible to illness. If you have a wound, including from a recent surgery, piercing, or tattoo, stay out of salt or brackish water, if possible. This includes wading at the beach. Cover your wounds with a waterproof bandage if it could come into contact with salt water, brackish water, or raw or undercooked seafood and its juices.  Promptly tend to any wounds, cuts or abrasions you get while in or near the water. Thoroughly wash the wound with clean, drinkable water and soap.
  3. Shower before swimming. Take a quick shower with soap and water before entering the water. This helps remove any germs or contaminants on your body, reducing the risk of spreading them into the water.
  4. Don’t swallow the water. Avoid swallowing water while swimming or participating in water activities. Ingesting even a small amount of contaminated water can lead to illness.
  5. Use proper hygiene practices. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the restroom or changing diapers. This is crucial in preventing the spread of germs to others and reducing the risk of contamination.
  6. Change diapers in designated areas. If you have young children who wear diapers, change them in designated diaper-changing areas and not near the water. Dispose of diapers properly to prevent contamination.
  7. Keep water clean. If you own a pool or hot tub, maintain proper water chemistry and filtration systems. Regularly test the water and ensure it meets the recommended standards. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and maintaining your pool or hot tub.
  8. Avoid swimming in high risk areas or situations. Heavy rainfalls can wash contaminants into recreational water bodies, increasing the risk of RWIs. Wait at least 24-48 hours after heavy rainfall before swimming to allow the water to clear. Avoid swimming near ocean outfalls at all times. Marine or ocean outfalls discharge wastewater, stormwater, and other potentially contaminated waters to the sea.
  9. Stay informed. Check for any local advisories or warnings regarding water quality before swimming or participating in water activities. Stay updated on any closures or restrictions in your area. Further information regarding advisories may be obtained from North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) by visiting their NC Recreational Water Quality Swimming Advisory Map or signing up to receive NCDEQ press releases on their  Water Quality Swimming Advisories page.
  10. Teach children about water safety. Educate children about the importance of not swallowing water, using proper hygiene practices, and following safety rules while swimming or playing in water.
  11. Report any water quality concerns. If you notice any issues with water quality or suspect an outbreak of RWIs, report it to the appropriate authorities, such as North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, your local health department and/or pool operators.
  12. Seek medical care if you become ill. If you get cut while in the sound or ocean, seek a doctor’s care if you become ill, a rash or swelling develops around the wound, or it appears infected.

Remember, by following these safety tips, you can reduce the risk of contracting RWIs and ensure a safe and enjoyable experience in recreational water environments. Stay informed, stay safe, and enjoy your time in the water responsibly!

Further information may be obtained by visiting NC Recreational Water Quality Swimming Advisory Map or viewing Water Quality Swimming Advisories. For more information on vibrio, please visit the CDC’s website For more information on Dare County Department of Health & Human Services, or water safety information, please visit