How swimmers contaminate pools

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Every year, thousands of Americans get sick with recreational water illnesses (RWIs), which are caused by germs found in places where we swim. The Department of Health in Orange and Seminole Counties are highlighting the importance of preventing these illnesses by emphasizing healthy swimming behaviors.

These RWIs are caused by germs spread by swallowing, breathing in mists or aerosols, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, hot tubs, water parks, water play areas, interactive fountains, lakes, rivers or oceans. RWIs can also be caused by chemicals in the water or chemicals that evaporate from the water and cause indoor air quality problems. Diarrhea is the most common route of infection for RWI, and it is often caused by germs like Crypto (short for Cryptosporidium), Giardia, norovirus, Shigella, and E. coli O157:H7. Other routes of infection for common RWIs include skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and wound infections.

“Children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems are most at risk for RWIs,” said Dr. Kevin Sherin, Director of the Department of Health in Orange County. “Anyone who is ill should also avoid swimming until their symptoms have passed.”

“Chlorine and other pool water treatments don’t kill germs instantly, and just one diarrheal incident can release enough germs into the water that swallowing a mouthful can cause diarrhea lasting up to 2–3 weeks,” said Dr. Swannie Jett, Health Officer for the Department of Health in Seminole County.

We all share the water we swim in, and we each need to do our part to keep ourselves, our families, and our friends healthy. To help protect yourself and other swimmers from germs, here are a few simple and effective steps all swimmers can take each time we swim:

  • Don’t swim when you have diarrhea.
  • Shower with soap before you start swimming.
  • Take a rinse shower before you get back into the water.
  • Take bathroom breaks every 60 minutes.
  • Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.
  • Check the chlorine and pH levels before getting into the water. Proper chlorine (1–3 mg/L or parts per million [ppm]) and pH (7.2–7.8) levels maximize germ-killing power. Most superstores, hardware stores, and pool supply stores sell pool test strips.
  • Don’t swallow the water you swim in.

Parents of young children should take a few extra steps:

  • Take children on bathroom breaks every 60 minutes or check diapers every 30–60 minutes.
  • Change diapers in the bathroom or diaper-changing area and not at poolside where germs can rinse into the water.

Remember … Think Healthy. Swim Healthy. Be Healthy!

For more information about healthy swimming, visit www.cdc.gov/healthyswimming

– Florida Department of Health in Orange County