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Swimming in Public Pools Is More Dangerous Than You Think

Family in swimming pool | JaySi/Getty Images

Swimming pools are the perfect way to cool off on a hot summer day. However, studies have found that public pools are far more dangerous than you may realize. Whether you’re jumping into a pool or relaxing in a hot tub, you’re putting yourself at risk of waterborne illnesses.

Chlorine doesn’t kill everything

According to Trisha Robinson, epidemiologist supervisor at the Minnesota Department of Health, “People have a false sense of security when they go to a swimming pool. There is this sense that chlorine kills everything. That is not the case.”

Robinson added, “It really is a communal bathtub. You are sharing water and germs in it with everybody else that is in there.”

Studies have looked at 633 nationwide outbreaks of illnesses caused by “bacteria, viruses, or other things floating around” in bodies of water. Nearly 80 percent were associated with water from swimming pools, hot tubs, or wading pools, rather than lakes, rivers, oceans.

Human fecal matter often causes outbreaks

Chlorine and chemicals do have some neutralizing powers, but outbreaks are often linked to Cryptosporidium. According to StarTribune, this is “a tiny parasite that can survive in chlorinated water up to seven days.” And where does this parasite come from? Human fecal matter.

Infants are usually the source of human fecal matter ending up in a pool. However, even adults who may not have showered prior to swimming could cause the problem. If you’re bringing any children to the pool, take every precaution you can to be sure they’re not the cause of any outbreaks.

Michele Hlavsa, chief of CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, recommends “[taking] kids on hourly bathroom breaks to reduce the chance of poop in the water.” If you have children in diapers, Hlavsa advises to “check diapers every 30 to 60 minutes, and change diapers in a diaper-changing area, away from the water.”

Family in swimming pool | Halfpoint/Getty Images

Common symptoms to look out for

The most common symptoms caused from waterborne diseases affect the stomach and intestines. Those include diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, and vomiting. You may even be at risk of Legionnaire’s disease, which is a common type of pneumonia contracted from water. The best way to avoid this risk is simply checking the inspection score of the pool you’ll be swimming in.

According to a CDC report on swimming pools, one in three swimming-related diseases occurred in a hotel pool. However, you should take precautions in any public swimming area. “Regardless of the venue, it’s easy to underestimate how hard it can be to correctly operate a pool and maintain disinfectant levels, including chlorine and bromine, and pH, which determine how effective the disinfectant kills germs,” claims Hlavsa.

“It’s important that operators successfully complete an operator training course approved by the health department, or that a responsible supervisor can do water testing, maintain water quality, and know when to close a pool to protect public health,” Hlavsa added.

There may be risks associated with swimming in public pools, but Robinson doesn’t want to discourage you from getting out there and divining into the water. “Swimming is a really great activity.” She simply cautions, “No matter where [you are] swimming, try not to swallow the water.”

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