Invisible Dangers Lurk in Local Pools
by Lisa DiFalco
In recent news, it appears that swimmers may be exposed to more than chlorinated water the next time they jump into a public pool. Parents and recreational facility owners should be aware of the increase in cryptosporidium and other concerns that can lead to health complications such as diarrhea, discomfort and more. Swimming is a common recreational activity, and public pools are frequently used by those without access to or prefer not to go to the beach.
MSN and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) share findings on the surprising rise of crypto-related illnesses in 2016 and offer advice to prevent transmission. However, swimmers need to be aware of a range of dangers that may cause uncomfortable issues and illness, including swimmer’s ear, hepatitis A and more. Learn more about cryptosporidium and other dangers potentially hiding in public pools.
What Is Cryptosporidium?
Cryptosporidium, also known as Crypto, is a parasite being found more often in pools than in previous years. A mouthful of public pool water may result in weeks of vomiting and watery bowel movements. According to the CDC, there were twice as many outbreaks due to cryptosporidium in 2016 than in 2014. Thirty-two outbreaks were reported in 2016. Last year, 1,940 people in Ohio experienced an illness due to the parasite.
The parasite is hard to kill. It can remain alive in clean water for up to 10 days. It can survive after being exposed to standard levels of chlorine. People can get sick from cryptosporidium by swallowing water that has been contaminated with a sick person’s feces. Families should advise children not to swallow pool water and individuals should not swim after having a bout of diarrhea. Michele Hlavsa, chief of the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, shared:
“To help protect your family and friends from Crypto and other diarrhea-causing germs, do not swim or let your kids swim if sick with diarrhea. Protect yourself from getting sick by not swallowing the water in which you swim.”
Pool operators or facility managers with the parasite in the water will need to close the pool and treat water immediately with high doses of chlorine. People can avoid contact with Crypto by:
- Showering prior to a swim;
- Not swallowing pool water;
- Not swimming if ill with diarrhea;
- Waiting for two weeks after symptoms appear to be gone before swimming again if the diarrhea is a result of Crypto; and
- Taking children frequently to the bathroom and changing diapers in diaper-changing areas away from the pool.
With higher numbers of cases reported in 2016, swimmers should be aware of the ease of transmission of Crypto and how to avoid coming down with a Crypto-related illness. Pool season is set to begin, and proper attention to personal hygiene and other precautions may limit potential outbreaks this summer.
What Else May Local Pools Harbor?
A public pool may look inviting, but that distinctive chlorine smell may be covering up a surge in other undesirable bacteria, matter and fluids. If a pool smells too strongly, it could mean that the chlorine is working overtime absorbing other fluids, according to WaterandHealth.org. According to the council’s survey, one in five people reported that they pee in the pool. This is one additional fluid that individuals may not want to swim about in, chlorinated or not. A strong chlorine smell is not due to the chlorine itself but the chloramines produced when chlorine comes in contact with contaminants, such as perspiration, body oils and urine. For those concerned about proper chlorine levels, the Water Quality & Health Council offers free pool test kits to measure chlorine and pH levels.
In addition to urine, other matter may be making their way into a local pool. The CDC reported that 25 percent of adults would swim after experiencing diarrhea and 50 percent do not shower before going into a pool. Human feces regularly makes its way into a pool and with it the potential to come into contact with E. coli and giardia.
Swimmer’s ear is a common ear infection that often results after contaminated water stays in the ear after going swimming. “Swimmer’s ear,” or otitis externa, happens in the outer ear canal and can result in pain for a swimmer of any age. Individuals that develop swimmer’s ear may show symptoms including:
- Pain with pressure or tugging on the ear;
- Swelling or redness of the ear; and
- Itchiness within the ear.
This can be an extremely uncomfortable condition. Use of ear plugs and drying ears thoroughly can help prevent this issue. A visit to a healthcare professional is advised for those that show symptoms.
Hepatitis A can be contracted from a swim in communal waters. Hepatitis A is caused by a virus often transmitted in fecal matter. This virus causes liver inflammation, but the majority of people experience a full recovery. Those with chronic liver disease may experience a serious illness due to a hepatitis A infection. Antibiotics will not help as the infection is a result of a virus. Common symptoms include:
- Liver pain;
- Dark urine and jaundice;
- Low-grade fever;
- Nausea; and
Swimmers can receive a hepatitis A vaccination to avoid the development of the condition. In addition to proper pool chlorination, personal hygiene practices and good sanitation practices can reduce the transmission of hepatitis A. Dr. Michael Beach, CDC epidemiologist, said:
“It’s crucial that public health professionals, pool operators and the general swimming public work in partnership to increase everyone’s chances for healthy swimming experiences.”
Swim Safely This Summer
Healthcare professionals, recreational facility managers and families need to be aware of the bacteria, viruses, fecal matter and urine that may contaminate a pool and respond accordingly. Nurses, healthcare providers, parents and caregivers need to pay special attention to individuals such as children, those with liver damage and individuals with an impaired immune system when they spend time in pools and note any unusual symptoms. Cases of crypto should be reported immediately and public pools notified to reduce the likelihood of transmission and treat pool water as needed.