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River Swimming Health Precautions

Avoiding contact with water from the Severn or Magothy Rivers within 48 hours of a rainfall can help reduce illness due to elevated bacteria levels in the water.

Memorial Day weekend is a week away and its arrival usually signals the beginning of the season when people enjoy swimming and other water-related activities in the Severn and Magothy Rivers. While stormwater runoff and aging septic systems pollute the rivers, people can reduce their risk for illness.

Here are some precautions to take before and after coming in contact with the water:

The Anne Arundel County Department of Health has a standing advisory that no one should swim in the waters of the beaches in the county, including the Severn and Magothy rivers, within 48 hours after a rainfall. The reason for this policy is that when stormwater flows into the river it carries animal waste from both pets and wild animals, which increases the level of enterococci bacteria in the water.

According to the Anne Arundel County Department of Health, enterococci are “found in the intestines of all warm-blooded animals, including humans” making these bacteria easy to detect and a good indicator of water quality.

Generally, readings of 104 colony forming units or less of enterococci per 100 milliliters of water is considered an acceptable level for water contact. When levels of enterococci bacteria exceed this level the chances for a person becoming ill from contact with the water increases.

Some of the most common symptoms of illness caused by enterococci are diarrhea, cramping, infection of an open wound, and ear infection. The Anne Arundel County Department of Health recommends that persons seek medical attention as soon as possible if these symptoms are experienced after contact with any natural bodies of water.  

A form is available at Operation Clearwater, which is run by Dr. Sally Hornor of Anne Arundel Community College, on which people can record their symptoms to provide her with information about illness related to water quality.

In order to reduce the chance for illness, there are a few precautions that people should follow before coming in contact with water in the Severn and Magothy rivers during the summer months. People are advised to avoid contact with the water if they have any open wounds or abrasions on their skin, have an ear infection or a weakened immune system. It is also a good idea to avoid swimming near storm drain outlets and in water that appears polluted.

Thoroughly washing with soap and water as soon as possible after swimming and using hand sanitizer when fishing or crabbing can help reduce the possibility of becoming ill from contact with polluted water.

Both the Anne Arundel County Department of Health and Operation Clearwater monitor enterococci bacteria levels at various sites in the Severn and Magothy rivers during the summer months. The county also checks water quality at sites in the rest of the county’s rivers. The results of the water testing conducted by each group are posted on their respective sites.

Nick Z. May 21, 2012 at 12:23 PM
I would recommend that anyone who values the information provided by the health department regarding beach water quality should visit this website and sign a petition urging the continued funding of the program: https://www.change.org/petitions/urge-the-obama-administration-and-the-epa-to-restore-money-for-beach-monitoring-and-strengthen-water-quality-standards
karen May 21, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Growing up on the Magothy, we always added a concoction to our ear canal immediately after swimming in the river - Boric Acid and Alcohol- and it was a guarantee against ear infections. If one of us forgot the drops, earaches within a week were the result.
Leslie Hunt May 21, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Karen, what good advice, thank you for contributing!

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