Nothing says summer like hot sun and cool water. But keep in mind, it’s important to be aware and protect yourself from harmful effects. The sun can be stronger than you might think and micro-organisms lurk in natural bodies of water which can cause illness in both humans and pets.

Don’t drink the water!

The most important thing you can do is practice good hygiene. We all see the signs that say, “Please shower before entering the pool,” and let me tell you, it’s important not just in pools, but in natural bodies of water. Always shower with soap and wash your hands before eating.

There are three main types of water-borne illnesses:

Swimmer’s Itch– An allergic reaction to microscopic parasites released from infected snails. If a swimmer comes in contact with the parasites, the parasites burrow into the skin causing a rash. However, humans are not suitable hosts, the parasites cannot develop inside a human and soon die. Signs of Swimmers Itch include tingling, burning or itching, which generally develop within minutes, and small reddish pimples that can turn into blisters within 12 hours. Most cases do not require medical attention, but there are methods of decreasing the discomfort:

  • Corticosteroid cream
  • Cool compresses
  • Bathing in Epsom salts or baking soda
  • Soaking in colloidal oatmeal baths
  • Applying a baking soda paste to the rash.
  • Anti-itch creams

Giardiasis– A diarrheal disease caused by the parasite Giardia. The illness is characterized by diarrhea, gas, greasy stool, stomach cramps, nausea and dehydration. Symptoms generally begin 1-3 weeks after becoming infected can last up to 2-6 weeks. Giardiasis can result from drinking contaminated water, including ingesting water from local lakes and ponds while swimming. There are a few different water treatment options to consider when backpacking.

  • There are many prescription drugs available to treat Giardiasis and shorten the duration of symptoms.
  • Giardiasis can affect everyone, but infants and pregnant women should drink a lot of fluids.
  • Dehydration can be life-threatening for infants so it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you know or suspect Giardiasis.

Poison from Cyanobacteria (Blue-Green Algae)- Algae are simple plants ranging from microscopic to large seaweeds. The algae bloom when water temperatures are warm and when nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are in the water. During the bloom, the amount of toxins released into the water can poison people, wild animals and pets that go near, consume or swim in the water. Unfortunately, there are no remedies to counteract the effects but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is conducting surveillance on humans and animals with illnesses in order to prevent the effects of contact with the algae. Locally, a cooperative study is underway in Canyon Ferry Reservoir this field season between DEQ, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Geological Survey (Wyoming-Montana) Water Science Center to ascertain whether the blooms can be controlled in the reservoir. Preliminary results of the study may be available in 2016.

  • Don’t swim, water ski or boat in areas where the water is discolored or where you see foam, scum or mats of algae on the water’s surface.
  • Don’t allow children or pets to play in or drink scummy water.
  • If you do swim in scummy water, rinse off with fresh water, ASAP.
  • Rinse off pets and don’t let them lick their fur.
  • Report any musty smell or taste to local public health authorities.
  • Pets are more likely to swim in and drink contaminated water. Contact your veterinarian if you see any of these symptoms: loss of appetite or energy, vomiting, stumbling and falling, foaming at the mouth, diarrhea, convulsions, excessive drooling, tremors and seizures or other unexplained sickness after being in contact with water.

Be sun safe.

It’s important to have fun in the sun, but make sure to protect yourself from sunburns and heatstroke. The sun can have damaging effects in as little as 15 minutes. A good reminder is to SLIP on a shirt, SLOP on sunscreen, SLAP on a hat and WRAP on sunglasses.

Clothing: If it’s not practical to wear a long shirt or pants, at least wear some sort of cover but use sunscreen regardless since T-shirts generally have SPF lower than 15.

Sunscreen:  Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protective factor (SPF) equal to or greater than 30 to all exposed skin. Reapply every 2 hours and after swimming, sweating or toweling off. Check the expiration date.

Hats: Wear a hat that covers your neck and ears. If you do wear a baseball hat, don’t forget to use sunscreen on your neck and ears.

Sunglasses: Sunglasses protect from UV rays and can reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the tender skin around your eyes. Most sunglasses in the U.S. block both UVA and UVB rays regardless of the cost.  Look for the UV sticker.

Also keep in mind…

  • Limit exposure to direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Register for EnviroFlash at for daily UV index alert.
  • Remember that UV rays can penetrate clouds and reflect off water, snow, sand and pavement.
  • Remember that indoor tanning is never healthy and does not provide a safe “base” tan.
  • Seek shade BEFORE you need relief from the sun.
  • Drink plenty of water regularly, even if not thirsty.
  • Drinks with alcohol or caffeine are dehydrating, avoid drinking them in the sun.
  • Protect the feet – the sand can burn them and glass and other sharp objects can cut them.
  • Watch for signs of heat stroke—hot, red skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; rapid, shallow breathing. If it’s suspected someone is suffering from heat stroke, call 9-1-1 and move the person to a cooler place. Quickly cool the body by applying a cool, wet cloth or towel to the skin (or misting it with water) and fanning the person. Watch for signs of breathing problems and make sure the airway is clear. Keep the person lying down.