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Keeping Healthy While Swimming In Dirty Rivers

Lewis Pugh, the United Nations Patron of the Oceans, will attempt a 507 km (315 mile) unassisted stage swim down the length of the Hudson River between August 13th and September 13th.

Years ago during the summer of 2004, Christopher Swain completed an assisted stage swim also down the length of the Hudson River. The purpose of Swain’s swim was to offer a new vision for the Hudson River so it would be drinkable and swimmable all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Swain’s efforts on the Hudson are chronicled in the 2007 public television documentary, Swim for the River.

Pugh calls Swain’s efforts – that also included a 2,004 km stage swim down the Columbia River in America’s Pacific Northwest – “a very powerful testimony to the health of the river and the constant pollution. Christopher is a very generous and genuine environmentalist.”

Swain’s swim down the Columbia River was the subject of the documentary Source to Sea: The Columbia River Swim which received the Environmental Activism and Social Justice Award at the EarthVision Film Festival, and the Most Inspiring Adventure Film Awards.

While Pugh’s latest campaign will highlight the critical role rivers play in a habitable planet and will highlight the interconnectedness of rivers and oceans, there are some significant risks of his health due to the pollution in the water.

Infections can come about due to lacerations in his arms and hands if he hits logs, debris, rocks, or other floating objects in the water. Bacteria can be swallowed or enter his body through his nose, ears, eyes, or even his skin.

But there some another possibility that may even be more harmful: radioactive waste.

New York governor Kathy Hochul is currently considering approval of plans to release 1.3 million gallons of water with traces of radioactive tritium from the Indian Point nuclear power point into the Hudson River in September while Pugh plans his stage swim.

So Pugh’s campaign and swim that stresses the urgent need to restore, protect and respect Planet Earth’s river is quite timely and pressing.

In a general sense, what can open water swimmers do to protect themselves while swimming in polluted rivers – or any open body of water – from drug-resistant bacteria, dangerous pathogens, highly contaminated raw sewage, agricultural run-off

The infections can include gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and wound infections. The most common outcome is diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea, and vomit, but long-term infections have been suffered by many open water swimmers around the world.

Some preventive measures include the following:

  • Take inoculations of hepatitis A, hepatitis B, gamma globulin, tetanus, typhoid, and whatever other vaccinations are recommended by physicians, virologists, and Doctors Without Borders and others who have had experiences with epidemics and massive natural disasters.
  • Take Xifaxan® (brand name) or rifaximin as a precautionary measure.
  • Immediately use soap and shampoo to clean your skin and hair after getting out of the water.
  • Use ear drop medicine immediately after getting out of the water.
  • Use Desitin or other protective skin ointment like lanolin to coat all over your body (and use coconut oil to remove it)
  • Learn to swim with your mouth closed, opening your mouth only when your head is turned and your mouth is exposed to the air.
  • Wear a condom (for men), a measure Martin Strel used in the Amazon River to prevent parasites from harming him.
  • Drink Coca-Cola immediately after getting out of the water.
  • Wear a nose plug to prevent water from entering your nose.
  • Wear ear plugs, sealed by lanolin, to prevent water from entering your ears.
  • On a long stage swim, get plenty of sleep and rest.

When you get tired swimming long distances in the open water, many swimmers tend to relax their jaw muscles and their mouths naturally open while their face is in the water,” says Steven Munatones. “In dirty rivers, lakes, and seas, this is a good way to swallow or absorb virus, bacteria, pathogens, or other contaminations.

If you have difficulty closing your mouth while you swim, you can practice by chewing gum while you swim in the pool and open water. Keep chewing the gum while your mouth is closed under the water. It is not easy in the beginning, but you will gradually become more adapt to keeping your mouth closed.”

© 2023 Daily News of Open Water Swimming

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