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Urine and fecal matter create water illnesses in public swimming pools

Warm weather has finally arrived in Michigan and many families will enjoy water sports at public swimming pools or relaxation in hot tubs and whirlpools. But people who go into public pools and whirlpools should be aware of the illnesses they can get from bacteria in the water, mostly from human bodily fluids. Everyone who uses public pools can make them safer for themselves and other users by showering prior to entering pools to wash away fecal matter, not using pools while sick with a cold or diarrhea, and not urinating in pools.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises everyone to be aware of recreational water illnesses (RWIs), and to follow certain rules for water safety. Chlorine takes time to kill germs in pools, so contaminants can affect the health of pool users. Germs can be spread in and around pools.

  • The most common RWI is diarrheal illness caused by E. coli O157:H7 and the cryptosporidium (crypto) parasite that occurs in infected stools. Crypto can resist chlorine and live in pools for days, which is people should not swim when they have diarrhea. Invisible amounts of fecal matter can spread germs in water and make others sick if even a little contaminated water is swallowed.
  • Avoid getting water in your mouth and don’t swallow pool water.
  • Practice good hygiene by showering with soap before entering a pool, to clean away germs, especially any fecal matter on the rear end. Adults should also shower or wash children thoroughly, (especially fecal matter on the rear end).
  • Don’t urinate in a pool. Go to a bathroom and wash your hands after using a toilet. Sweat and urine in water can combine with chlorine and irritate eyes and the respiratory system.
  • Adults should take children for frequent bathroom breaks or check diapers often. Diapers should be changed in a bathroom or changing station, not at poolside. Adults should wash their hands after changing diapers and wash children’s hands after they use the bathroom.
  • Beware of public pools with dirty or cloudy water with a strong chemical smell. Properly chlorinated pools have little odor, with clean and clear water, as well as functioning ventilation and filtration systems.

A recent study by the Water Quality and Health Council found that nearly 20 percent of adults surveyed have swum in public pools with a runny nose, an exposed rash or diarrhea. In a CNN study of 1,000 adults, 17 percent reported that they urinate in public pools.

The CDC reports that RWIs have been increasing for the past 20 years, and from 2005 to 2006, the agency reported 78 outbreaks of RWIs associated with swimming pools, water parks and hot tubs, as well as rivers, lakes and oceans that affected 4,412 people, causing 116 hospitalizations and five deaths.

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  • John M. Giannone 3 years ago

    I frequest the 92nd Street Y. It is a nice place to swim and work out. HOWEVER . . . when I have taken swimming lessons, I tend to swallow water. Invarably, within the next 36 hours I come down with flu-like symptoms: muscles aches, mucuse forming,
    low grade fever, joint aches, light sensitivity, loss of appetite.
    I have noticed that very young ones take swimming lessons in the pool, but many enter the water dry--meaning . . it appears that they are treated as too cute by mommies and staff to shower.

    I t tok a while for me to figure out what was making me ill. The pool is cleansed with ozone and the legal (small) amount of chlorine. I do not know if others have had the same experience
    in that Y. I do not know if it is a bacterium or a virus
    that causes me to become ill. My email is (use the subject word 'swim')

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