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Swimmers told: Please don't go to the toilet in the water

Finland's health authorities have been issuing advice in an attempt to prevent the spread of norovirus among swimmers this summer, following last year's outbreak when hundreds of beachgoers caught the contagious vomiting bug.

Pojat kahlaavat vedessä
Last year swimmers across the country were struck down with vomiting bugs spread through contaminated water. Image: Yle / Matti Myller

Last summer hundreds of beachgoers across Finland picked up more than just a suntan. Cases of the norovirus, an unpleasant vomiting bug, spread like wildfire through contaminated water in Tampere, Oulu and in the south.

Authorities are now keen to avoid a repeat of last year's numerous beach closures.

Senior inspector Jaana Kilponen, from the health and safety executive Valvira, said that changing rooms and toilet facilities at bathing spots were also responsible for the spread. “When you’ve got ideal swimming conditions, such as warm water and lots of people, then it’s important that authorities make sure the facilities are cleaned more frequently, and kept well stocked with soap and hand towels,” she told Yle.

Kilponen also implored swimmers to avoid being sick or going to the toilet in the water – and not to drink it. Anyone with Norovirus should wait two weeks before going swimming. Kilponen admits that in theory it's possible that a single infected swimmer could contaminate the water.

In preparation for the summer, one mother spoken to by Yle, Iia Lahtinen, says she's been teaching her kids why it's important to go to the toilet elsewhere than in the water.

Local authority health inspectors are required to begin testing water samples by mid June, before the start of the swimming season. They will then have to take four samples a month apart - and the results must be published on noticeboards and online.

These routine checks, however, don't pick up the norovirus. But Valvira insist that they will detect other bacteria which allows swimmers to decide whether the water is safe.

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