I tell my youngest son not to swallow water from the pool every time we go swimming. While I know that it’s gross, can it also make him sick?
Yes, it can. While most people assume that water that has been chlorinated is safe, there are some parasites and organisms that can live up to 7 days in a chlorinated pool, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Chlorination is a process in which water is treated with chemicals to kill organisms that may cause illnesses. However, the procedure is far from a guarantee.
“Pathogens able to evade chlorine inactivation have become leading outbreak etiologies,” CDC said in a written statement. “Pool chemicals don’t work right away; even properly treated pool water can spread germs.”
In fact, in a recent warning about public swimming pools, water parks and hot tubs, the CDC said there have been at least eight deaths that have resulted from outbreaks in recreational water from 2000 to 2014.
During that same time period, there were 493 outbreaks associated with treated recreational water that caused at least 27,219 reported cases of illnesses, CDC said.
More than half the reported pool and hot tub water-borne outbreaks were caused by the parasite Cryptosporidium, also known as Crypto. Crypto, which can cause gastrointestinal illness and diarrhea, can survive even in pools and hot tubs that are thought to be well-maintained.
Other pathogens that have caused pool-related outbreaks include Pseudomonas, which can cause “hot tub rash” and “swimmers’ ear,” and Legionella, which can cause Legionnaires’ disease, which is a severe pneumonia, and Pontiac fever, which is a milder illness with flu-like symptoms, CDC said. E. coli and norovirus are also concerns.
Pathogens such as E. coli, norovirus and Crypto can get into the pool or hot tub water when people who have or recently had diarrhea get into the pool. Even those who don’t have diarrhea but still have fecal matter on their bodies, can emit fecal matter into the water.
To put that into perspective, a kid can bring up to 10 grams of poop with him into the water. That’s equal to the weight of four pennies and contains 10 trillion microbes, CDC says. Meanwhile, the average adult has about 0.14 grams of feces on their rear end at any given time. And at least 19 percent of adults have admitted to peeing in the pool.
So how can you enjoy your summer in the pool and help decrease the risk of yourself or your kids getting sick? The CDC says:
- First thing’s first, stay out of the water if you have diarrhea or are vomiting.
- Shower before you get in the water. This helps to remove residual fecal matter as well as remove oil and other substances from the skin, which interfere with the action of chlorine.
- Don’t pee or poop in the water.
- Don’t swallow or drink the water.
- Take kids on frequent bathroom breaks.
- Check diapers, and change them in a bathroom or diaper-changing area — not poolside — to keep germs away from the pool.
- Check the pool’s inspection records before you swim.
- Use waterproof bandages.
So, just a reminder from the CDC: “You share the water — and the germs, pee, sweat and dirt in it — with everyone in the water. Use the water for swimming, not drinking.”
Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor: This column was edited by Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist for CFAES.