We've all done it as kids. I used to love nothing more than to ease, eeeease myself into the frigid waters of Lake Retreat when we went there for family camp. I used to swim, cannonball, and dive gleefully into those waters, yea though the surface was positively replete with duck shit. And in the outer areas, there were lily pads so dense that it's a wonder I never drowned. (I did get badly caught in them one time, and my wee short life flashed before mine eyes.)
I don't remember always showering after a visit to the lake. Sometimes I did, but surely, sometimes I did not. I do remember showering after an ill-fated, attempted canoe ride, in which I asked a morose, lonely, v. large girl to come boating with me, and I got in first, then she tried to, but she tipped us over. I in my favorite sweater and jeans and shoes was not pleased. Plus, I was 13, and it was very important to look good, so back to the cabin I went and showered that shit off me and washed my hair a dozen times.
But I digress.
Even though we all technically survived lake-swimming, is it safe?
First of all, there are beasts. You may encounter snakes (including venomous ones), snapping turtles, alligators, leeches, Asian carp, etc. Or pissed-off geese.
Second, you may contract nasty bugs, such as pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Picking up a case of Giardiasis is a not-uncommon threat. You contract it by swallowing even small amounts of tainted lakewater. Also frequently present are Shigella, Campylobacter jejuni, Leptospirosis, Helicobacter pylori, Legionella, Mycobacterium avium complex, Salmonella, and Typhoid fever (yes, Typhoid fever--not just what you die of in Oregon Trail).
Amoebas are another concern:
Lakes and rivers are a popular place for those hoping for relief from the summertime heat. However, water-borne bacteria called amoeba could ruin your plans. It's a tiny parasite that breeds in water. It enters through the nose and attacks the brain. Symptoms are flu-like and can come on rapidly, and, if it enters your body, attacks the brain.
Lakes also often contain fecal coliform and Chromobacterium Violaceum, which has made people severely sick:
HOPE MILLS (WTVD) -- Doctors at UNC Hospitals are fighting to stop an infection caused by a common bacteria found in lakes before it spreads through the body of a 14-year-old Cumberland County boy.
Matthew McKinney was taken to UNC Children's Hospital to be treated for the bacterial infection that he picked up while swimming in Hope Mills Lake on June 14.
"It's not every day a doctor says, 'your son's dying, we're going to try to save his life,'" Matthew's father, Brian McKinney, said in an interview with Eyewitness News Wednesday.
McKinney said doctors had to remove part of his son's nose, half of the palette in his mouth and five teeth.
"I just can't imagine. It's like something in the movies. It's a nightmare," he said. "I just can't imagine not having a roof to your mouth and bless his heart, he doesn't know this is happening."
The teen is still in critical condition, but his father said he is doing a little bit better. Tests have showed the bacteria may be making its way out of his bloodstream. However, he's not yet out in the clear.
The bacteria called Chromobacterium Violaceum that Matthew contracted is common in the sand and mud at the bottom of lakes, ponds and rivers across the state.
"It's everywhere. It's natural. It's in the environment," McKinney said.
McKinney said his son and his friends were diving under water, rooting up rocks lodged in the lake floor where the bacteria lives.
"The biggest thing the doctor said was don't go digging in the mud," McKinney said.
Health officials have not closed Hope Mills Lake - nor issued a health warning - but they are advising swimmers not to drink the water. They also say it's a good idea to use soap and shower off after swimming, immediately clean and treat any cut or wound, and seek a doctor's care if a cut or scratch gets infected.
And for the love of God, please avoid these three areas:
Lake Karachay, Russia
According to a report by the Worldwatch Institute on nuclear waste, Karachay is the most polluted spot on Earth. It was used by the Soviet Union as a nuclear dumping site, and now the radiation level here is so high that it's sufficient to give a lethal dose after just an hour of exposure.
Onondaga Lake, NY
Onondaga Lake is arguably the most polluted lake in the United States. No other lake in the United States receives as much of its inflow as wastewater. It is also severely polluted with various forms of nitrogen. Concentrations of total ammonia and nitrate in the upper productive layers (near the lake's surface) remain well above levels considered limiting to plant growth (phosphorus is the limiting nutrient). Concentrations of total ammonia and nitrite exceed standards, often by a wide margin, intended to protect aquatic life against the toxic effects of these forms of nitrogen.
The Berkeley Pit, MT
New fungal and bacterial species call this deadly lake home. The pit is one mile long by half a mile wide, and over 1780 feet deep, 1000 of which are filled with acidic water with high concentrations of heavy metals and toxic chemicals, including copper, iron, arsenic, cadmium, zinc, and sulfuric acid. The iron-rich water near the surface is reddish, yielding to a vibrant lime-green hue not far below the surface, where copper concentrations are higher. If you were to drink large amounts of this lovely concoction it would kill you by corroding through your digestive system.
And please, please, if you must swim in a bum-bum-germ-infested lake? Godsakes man, please shower afterward.