Last year, a record number of "No Swimming" signs and health advisories were posted at polluted beaches and swimming holes around the United States -- 19,950 of them according to a new report from the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council. But don't cancel that beach trip yet. Experts say there are things you can do to lower the odds of getting sick.
The first rule is to pay attention to those "No Swimming" signs, even if the water looks perfect, says Joan Rose, a water-quality expert at Michigan State University.
"When people swim in polluted water, they get respiratory disease, skin infections, ear infections. They also get (intestinal disorders), stomach ache, diarrhea," Rose says.
The second rule, according to Rose: Stay out of the water after heavy rains. They can flush huge amounts of pollution from sewer systems and the landscape into the water. You might think this sewage spreads out in the ocean, but it doesn't.
“It hugs the shore, basically,” Rose says. “And that's how we get exposed.” It also helps to make a point of swimming with your head out of the water, Rose says.
Finally, when you pick a beach, Rose says you can check to see whether it's a clean one. Contact the local health department, or look online on Web sites posted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or the NRDC's annual survey of beach closures.
Rose says you can often learn whether that beach had problems, and then you'll be better able to make an informed choice of where to have your fun in the sun.