WEDNESDAY, June 27 (HealthDay News) -- If you're headed to the seashore this summer, the last thing you want to hear is that you and your family could bring home a nasty disease after taking a dip in the ocean.
But, the nation's beaches continue to put swimmers at risk for catching a variety of bacterial and viral illnesses, according to a report released Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
The report found that the number of beach closings and official advisories about polluted water at coastal U.S. beaches in 2011 reached the third-highest level in two decades. More than two-thirds of the closings and advisories were due to bacterial levels in the water that exceeded public health standards.
"Beaches can make you sick," said Steve Fleischli, water program director at the NRDC. The biggest causes of contamination are human and animal waste, largely from sewage brought to the sea through storm water run-off, he noted.
Fleischli said those at greater risk of contracting a sea-borne illness at the beach are people with weakened immune systems and small children who are more likely to ingest water while swimming.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that up to 3.5 million people become ill from contact with raw sewage from sewer overflows each year, which typically occur after a period of intense rain.
Beach water pollution can cause a range of illnesses in swimmers including diarrhea, skin rashes, conjunctivitis ("pinkeye"); ear, nose and throat problems; hepatitis; respiratory ailments; neurological disorders; and other serious health problems, according to the NRDC.
Ratings based on indicators of beach water quality, monitoring frequency and public notification systems were issued by the NRDC to 200 popular beaches in the country. Twelve beaches got a five-star rating, including Newport Beach in
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