RICHMOND, Va. (WFXR) – The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is reminding people who have been affected by recent flooding to be aware of the potential health risks before they participate in recreational water activities.

Heavy rains can increase the risk of animal waste and the potential release of inadequately treated wastewater from treatment facilities.

Bacteria, debris and other pollutants in rainwater runoff can end up in rivers, lakes and streams which can pose a risk to human health and safety.

Rain events can also cause flooding and fast-moving waters – especially in low-lying areas.

The most common illnesses from contaminated water are gastrointestinal illnesses which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain or fever.

These illnesses can develop from swallowing water that has been contaminated by disease-causing microbiological organisms, so it’s best to avoid swimming or wading in floodwaters.

VDH recommends the following safety tips for people who plan to swim, wade, kayak, canoe or raft in natural waters after heavy rain:

  • Avoid getting water in your mouth. Never swallow water from an untreated water source.
  • Don’t swim if you have broken skin. Bacteria, viruses and other organisms can infect wounds causing more serious illness.
  • Shower with soap and water after recreating in natural waters.
  • Don’t swim when you are ill.
  • Avoid swimming if dead fish are present.
  • Use extreme caution and avoid unnecessary risks if you encounter covered roads or fast-moving waters. The water may be deeper and moving faster than you think.

If you use water provided to the public at campgrounds, restaurants, summer camps, or daycares with private wells or septic systems submerged by floodwaters, you should also take extra precautions.

For additional information and safety tips regarding private wells and septic systems, click here.