TDHB - Recreational Water Safety

By: Tdhb  06-Dec-2011
Keywords: Public Health

The Taranaki DHB Public Health Service uses water quality data gathered by the Taranaki Regional Council to monitor selected coastal and freshwater sites across the region during the summer bathing season (1 November - 31 March).

We recommend that you avoid swimming, and other water activities, during or shortly after rainfall.


What illnesses can you contract from swimming in contaminated water?

  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting 
  • Respiratory illnesses, similar to flu-like symptoms
  • Skin, eye and ear infections
  • Abdominal pain, cramps, and nausea
  • Irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and mouth, which may appear as an itch, redness or dermatitis.
  • Toxins can also affect the liver and the nervous system. People at greatest risk of a reaction are children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with pre-existing medical conditions.

Who should I call if I think I have experienced a reaction?


See your GP or ring


0800 611 116

. Tell them you may have been exposed to contaminated water. Your doctor has been asked to notify the Medical Officer of Health of any people with possible reactions.



Is it safe to swim in or drink contaminated water?

No. You should avoid any skin contact with the water and avoid swallowing the water.


Can I eat shellfish from contaminated water?

No. Eating shellfish from affected areas should be avoided. To find out more about shellfish safety visit


What are the health risks of contaminated recreational water? 

There are a number of disease-causing bugs (called pathogens) that can survive in the sea, lakes and rivers for some time. The bugs mainly get into the water through human and animal faeces. When we come into contact with water that has been contaminated we expose ourselves to the bugs and risk getting sick.


What are Pathogens?


Pathogens cause disease in humans and animals. There are many different kinds of pathogens. Some of the more widely known are Campylobacter, Salmonella, Giardia, Cryptosporidium and viruses that cause diarrhoea and flu-like symptoms. The pathogens are present in faeces and may enter our waterways through untreated sewage discharges, leaky sewerage pipes, septic tanks, stormwater, rural run-off and from birds.

Even when beaches, lakes and rivers meet health guidelines, there is still a small health risk when you swim at that spot.  It is not possible to say there is zero risk to public health, especially where there are known sources of human and animal faeces near the water.


What are Cyanobacteria?


Cyanobacteria are commonly known as blue-green algae. When algae multiply rapidly we get a “algal bloom”, which occur naturally. Activities, such as taking water from rivers or adding nutrients to waterways, can make things worse.

Cyanobacteria can produce toxins, known as cyanotoxins. The toxins can be a threat to people and animals if present in drinking water, or if people and animals come into contact with the water.

Will wearing a wetsuit protect me?


No, wearing a wetsuit or a rash vest will not protect you and could make any reaction worse. The cyanobacteria may accumulate in the collar and cuff areas and rub against your skin. This may cause a strong skin reaction in these areas.

Is it safe to boat or canoe in contaminated water?


We recommend you do not use sites that have health warning for boating or canoeing. Recreational water safety is a joint initiative between the




and the

Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Last updated:

Keywords: Public Health

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