You Don't Have to Drown to be Injured by Water

Illnesses acquired while swimming are a growing problem, says drowning accident lawyer.

Although accidental drowning deaths and near-drowning injuries involve primarily those in their childhood and teenage years, there are other recreational swimming injuries that are largely overlooked by many swimmers and their parents. In today’s post, the drowning accident lawyer at the Doan Law Firm will explain how recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are becoming more common in the developed Western countries and how many cases of such illnesses may be due to improper water purification techniques.

RWIs are defined as any viral, bacterial, or parasitic illness that is spread through contact with water that has been contaminated with urine or fecal matter that contains a disease-causing organism. Although such contamination is usually due to fecal matter or urine deposited in water by toddlers and preschoolers, there have been reports of contamination that can be traced back to domesticated animals or even due to improperly treated wastewater. Fortunately, the disease organisms that are the easiest to transmit are responsible for relatively mild diseases.

The more commonly-encountered RWIs include conditions that affect, in no particular order, the gastrointestinal system, the skin, ears, eyes, the brain and nervous systems, and wound infections. Specific examples include:

Gastrointestinal system

The most common body system to be affected by RSIs is the gastrointestinal (digestive) system, where the most common disorder is diarrhea that is caused by E. coli family of bacteria or by a rotavirus. In all cases the infections are spread by ingesting water that has been contaminated by urine and/or fecal matter that contains the organism responsible for the disease or condition.

Skin and/or wound infections

Skin infections are usually caused by germs from the streptococcal, staphylococcal, or Pseudomonas families. A particularly deadly infection of the skin is due to the so-called “flesh eating bacteria” of the strep family that usually requires amputation of one or more extremities to save the victims life.

Ear Infections

Ear infections are usually of the “swimmers ear” variety and due to bacteria from the Pseudomonas family. Most such infections quickly respond to antibiotics but hearing loss may occur in those patents whose immune systems are impaired.


Most eye problems caused by RWIs are similar to the commonly-encountered bacterial infection known as “pinkeye.” These infections are usually managed with antibiotic drops.

Brain and nervous system

RSIs that involve the brain and/or nervous system are always serious because such infections are usually caused by either parasites such as amoebas or by viruses, neither or which can be killed by antibiotics. In most cases a nasal or ear infection will spread to the lining of the brain or spinal cord, where they will interfere with normal function of the respiratory muscles. A particularly dangerous infection that was once on the verge of eradication but has been reported more frequently in recent years is polio, which is caused by a virus that is spread by fecal contamination of drinking, bathing, or swimming water.

Prevention of RWIs

Among water sanitation engineers and the technical personnel who operate water and sewage treatment plants, there is a saying to the effect that the best way to prevent water-borne infections is to use just enough water purification chemicals to kill all the germs but not enough to kill anyone who might drink the “treated” water. I practice, purification chemicals are usually combined with “physical” techniques such as sedimentation ponds, active filtering and aeration of flowing water to add oxygen to the treated water and to expose that water to sunlight, since both oxygen and sunlight are toxic to bacteria and will speed up the breakdown of the purification chemicals themselves.

In the United States, any disease that is known to be spread by contact with contaminated water is considered to be a "reportable" disease. This means that once a case of such a disease is confirmed, the case must be reported to a state or federal public health department which in turn must investigate the circumstances that led to the disease’s appearance and, if there is the possibility that additional cases may occur, to order preventative measures such as boiling of all water that is intended for human use or consumption or by ordering a quarantine of the suspected source of the disease until such a time that the danger is considered to have passed.

In summary, diseases that can be traced back to contaminated water supplies are usually held to have been caused by inadequate water treatment by a local municipality and, if it can be shown that the inadequate treatment was due to negligence, the municipality may be held liable for a series of large damage awards.

Anyone suspecting that they, or a family member, have acquired a waterborne infection should contact an experienced drowning accident attorney who practices in your town or city to arrange a consultation and a review of the facts of your case. By contacting a local drowning accident lawyer, you will be assured that your lawyer will be familiar with any local circumstances that may influence the outcome of your case.

Since there may be time limits of how long you have to file a waterborne illness lawsuit that imposed by state law, you are strongly advised to contact a drowning accident attorney as soon as possible after you suspect such an illness has occurred.