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That's So Sick, but Not in a Good Way

By Laura Oppenheimer in News on Sep 17, 2007 4:00PM


Chicagoist is a big cheerleader for the city, but there are some things that even we have a hard time getting excited about. Swimming in Lake Michigan or jumping into the Chicago River are two of them. Maybe it is the dumping. Or maybe it is (jump in the way-back machine, for a second with us) Dave Matthews Band. Or maybe it is the knowledge that every summer, the beaches are closed several times due to high E. coli levels. And studies have proven it; swimming in polluted water can make you sick.

A new study, however, is looking to find out if just having water from the Lake and River touch you can affect your health. Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and UIC researchers are behind the Chicago Health, Environmental Exposure and Recreation Study (fun acronym for a not-fun subject — CHEERS) to determine if non-swimmers like kayakers and boaters are also affected by polluted water. The three-year, $3.8 million project will determine if there should be warning posted for non-swimmers. In addition to studying those who use Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, researchers will also look at non-swimmers from the Skokie Lagoons and Calumet rivers. Researchers were out on the job this weekend, enrolling kayakers from the 7-mile Flatwater Classic on Sunday.

From the press release announcing the study:

After completing their outdoor activity, participants will complete a second survey to evaluate the extent of their water contact. The research team will determine rates of gastrointestinal illness and other types of illness (such as skin, respiratory, eye, and ear conditions) among participants during the three weeks following their enrollment in the study. This will be accomplished by conducting telephone follow-up surveys, and in some cases, home visits conducted by research nurses. The research team will also collect specimens for culture from study participants who become ill during the follow-up period.

We're already feeling ominous about the outcome of this study. Even reading about collecting "specimens" has us feeling queasy. Chicagoist supposes that if our mayor has no qualms about eating fish from the river, than maybe we shouldn't be concerned about hopping into a canoe and paddling down. But only maybe.

Image via Swanksalot.