Officials monitor unseen danger in creeks and rivers

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. Many of you may be heading to the river or lake for the first time this year over the Memorial Day weekend. There's an unseen danger you may want to keep in mind, because it could make you or your family sick.

As the weather warms up, many kids will be begging to go for a swim.
"She loves the water. We have a little pool at home that she likes to get in all the time," says Katie Salchow of 3 year old Grace.

Many will go to a creek, river or lake. "Living around here, I've always gone into creeks and things like that, so I just automatically think they're good, since I've always been in there," says Salchow.

5 year old Bentley's mom, Kelly Hunt, says "Really, we go to pools more often than creeks and lakes, because they're more clean, and the risk of e-coli and gross little buggies."

The Springfield-Greene County Health Department and Watershed Committee have begun weekly testing for bacteria at five sites across the county, looking for fecal coli-form and e-coli, which come from the waste of humans and animals. "When we have big rain events, we expect to see some higher levels," says Kendra Findley, Administrator of Community Health and Epidemiology with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department.

According to the EPA, a safe e-coli level in a stream is anything under 235 CFUs (colony forming units) per 100 ml of water. But at the spot tested on Wilson's Creek, the latest reading was more than 1,200 CFUs, probably not a spot you'd want to go swimming.

"Water activities aren't a bad thing. Just be aware of where you're at, and again, try not to get water within your mouth. And then if you're doing picnics as part of your water activities, outdoor activities, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. If you can't do soap and water, use like an alcohol based hand sanitizer," says Findley.

"It's probably a good idea to do that," says Salchow. It's one way to keep your family safe, while keeping cool this Summer.

Those bacteria can cause diarrhea, stomach cramping, nausea and even fever, usually 3 to 5 days after exposure. We'll link you to the weekly stream testing results to the right of this story.