As the weather heats up, public swimming pools beckon us to leave the comfort of our homes and venture outdoors to take a cool dip. Swimming in the public pool may be considered one of America’s favorite pastimes, but for me, no thanks. My 5 Top Reasons You Should Never Get Into A Public Swimming Pool will give you the extra ammunition you need when kids ask, “Can we go to the public pool?”
“The average bather has about a tenth of a gram of feces in his gluteal fold, which is a nice way of saying butt crack,” says Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology and environmental studies at The University of Arizona. That means with five people, “you have a tablespoon of poop in the pool.” Moreover, beyond the gross-out factor, without safe levels of disinfectant, you can run the risk of transmitting diseases, he says.
A CDC report of routine pool inspections released in 2010 found that nearly one in eight pools posed serious violations that threatened public health, which resulted in those pools being closed immediately.
One in 5 adults admit to peeing in a pool. Even Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps confessed, “I think everybody pees in the pool,” Phelps told The Telegraph in 2012. “It’s kind of a normal thing to do for swimmers. When we’re in the water for two hours, we don’t really get out to pee. Chlorine kills it, so it’s not bad.”
When urine (and other waste, such as sweat) mixes with chlorine, it creates an irritant called chloramine, which is what causes red, stinging eyes when swimming and can also irritate your respiratory tract, Michele Hlavsa, an epidemiologist and chief of healthy swimming for the Centers for Disease Control of Prevention explains. “It’s really important to not use the pool as a restroom,” she says. Chloramines are also what causes that “chlorine smell,” which is a red flag for contamination.
Cryptosporidium — or Crypto, for short — is a parasite that causes the diarrheal disease cryptosporidiosis. In a new report, the CDC noted 1,788 water-associated illnesses were reported between 2011 and 2012, including 95 cases that required hospitalization and one death in 32 states and Puerto Rico. Of those, the agency said Cryptosporidium was responsible for more than half the cases stemming from treated water in pools and hot tubs. While most bacteria can live in treated water for only a few hours at most, Cryptosporidium can hang on for up to 10 days. It’s protected by an outer shell that allows the parasite to survive for up to 10 days even in chlorine-treated water, so even well-maintained pools can spread Crypto among swimmers. To be safe, the CDC advises checking to see when the pool you’re using was most recently inspected. Be sure you or your children don’t swallow water while swimming. Also, to make sure you’re not contributing to the problem, the CDC advises against swimming when you have diarrhea and for two weeks afterward, especially if you know that Cryptosporidium was the cause. Take young children to the bathroom frequently (and talk to them about not peeing or pooping in the water).
Bacteria – E. Coli
The CDC released a new study about what’s lurking in the pool water. Water sampled from 161 pools in the Atlanta area showed signs of E. Coli — the bacteria most commonly associated with fecal matter.
When you forgo rinsing with soap and water before entering the pool, you introduce fecal matter into the water. A simple shower with soap before entering the water can significantly cut the risk of contamination. Check out this article on Why you SHOULD shower before you use the pool.
Be sure to change diapers in the bathroom or designated diaper-changing area — not poolside, which increases the risk of germs getting into the water.
Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are caused by germs that are spread by swallowing contaminated water present in swimming pools, hot tubs, water parks, lakes, and oceans. According to the CDC, there has been an increase in the number of RWI outbreaks in the past two decades.
The most common RWI is diarrhea (caused by Crypto or E-coli). Other RWI infections include:
Chlorine and other disinfectants don’t kill germs instantly. Also, the mixing of chlorine with pee and sweat uses up the chlorine in the pool that would otherwise kill germs. That’s why keeping chlorine at recommended levels is essential to maintain a healthy pool. If you notice a strong odor of chlorine at a public pool, it’s not a good thing. It indicates a maintenance problem. A well-chlorinated pool should, in fact, have little odor.
Summer is not much fun if the water you swim in makes you sick. So be advised, if you decide to take a dip in the pool – you’ve been warned!
Emily Woll writes for North American Healthcare Inc. and drosmond.com.