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Health Department urges residents to swim safely

WAUKEGAN – Whether swimming at a local pool or enjoying family time on a favorite beach, it is important to protect yourself from illness, prevent the spread of germs, and check and see if conditions are safe for swimming, according to the Lake County Health Department.

Recreational water illnesses are caused by germs spread by swallowing, breathing in or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, hot tubs/spas, water playgrounds or fountains, lakes, rivers or oceans. Diarrhea is the most common illness.

Here are ways to protect yourself from illness at pools and water parks:

• Don’t swim or let your children swim when sick with diarrhea. 

• Don’t swallow the water. 

• Check out the pool’s latest inspection report and do your own mini-inspection (check that you can see the pool drain, locate the lifeguard on duty, and locate safety equipment that is available). 

• Take children on bathroom breaks every 60 minutes. 

• Check diapers every 30 to 60 minutes and change them in a bathroom or diaper-changing area – not waterside – to keep germs away from the water. 

• Shower before you enter the water. 

The Lake County Health Department monitors lake water for bacteria in more than 100 Lake Michigan and inland lake beaches to ensure that the water is acceptable for swimming. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, beach closure information can be found on the Health Department’s Beach Advisory webpage, http://www.lakecountyil.gov/2385/Beach-Advisory, which is updated daily by 10 a.m.

“When our water sampling tests indicate a high bacteria count, a swim ban is issued to keep people out of the water until the water quality improves,” said Mike Adam, senior biologist with the Health Department. “High bacteria counts may be caused by stormwater runoff, sewage overflow, nearby septic failure, or large quantities of droppings from geese or seagulls.”

Follow these tips to avoid hazards when swimming in lakes this summer:

• Before heading to your favorite lake, check if the beach is open on the Health Department website. If a swim ban is in place, do not swim in the lake. 

• Avoid swimming in lakes after a large rain event, since rainfall can wash pollutants into lakes resulting in elevated bacteria levels. 

• On Lake Michigan, don’t swim during times of heavy surf (i.e., high waves), which can overpower even the strongest swimmer. 

• On inland lakes, occasional harmful algae blooms may occur. Avoid areas where the water has a green or blue-green appearance. Report any algae blooms to the Health Department. 

Throughout the summer, the Health Department samples 10 beaches along Lake Michigan four days per week: North Point Marina Beach, Winthrop Harbor; Illinois Beach State Park North Beach, Zion; Illinois Beach State Park South Beach, Zion; Illinois Beach State Park Resort Beach, Zion; Waukegan North Beach, Waukegan; Waukegan South Beach, Waukegan; Lake Bluff Sunrise Beach, Lake Bluff; Forest Park Beach, Lake Forest; Park Avenue Beach, Highland Park; and Rosewood Beach, Highland Park. 

The Health Department also samples Moraine Dog Beach in Highland Park and Lake Bluff Dog Beach once a week.

Test samples taken from Lake County beaches indicate bacteria levels exceeding water quality standards about 10% of the time. When bacteria levels are high, the Health Department notifies the beach’s manager and signs are posted indicating a swim ban is in place. Water samples are taken daily until the bacteria levels fall below the standard.

For information on beach monitoring, call Lake County Health Department’s Environmental Services at 847-377-8020.

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