(HealthyResearch.com) – Summer is the perfect time for backyard barbeques, outdoor games and cooling off in the pool. It’s also ideal for pathogens that may be lurking in the water, just waiting for the opportunity to attack unsuspecting new hosts. These tiny little parasites and germs often spread silently and invisibly, turning a day of fun in the sun into an onslaught of misery.
Swimmers beware: That water might not be as safe as it looks.
Recreational Water Illnesses
The CDC reports that recreational water illnesses (RWIs) often spread through pools, hot tubs, and other water sources. In fact, an average of 33 people fall ill each year due to pathogens in swimming pools alone. Infection can occur whether water is perfectly treated or not, making it difficult to predict if swimming areas are really safe.
Cryptosporidium, or Crypto, causes diarrhea that can be life-threatening in severe cases. It has the ability to survive even in chlorinated water. Crypto spreads when water dislodges microscopic traces of fecal matter into the water, where other swimmers may inadvertently swallow it. It doesn’t seem to matter how clean the sick person is; if they go swimming with Crypto, they’re going to spread it.
But that’s far from the only threat. Depending on how well-maintained the pool or hot tub is (or isn’t), other pathogens could be breeding in there, too.
- Legionella can cause severe respiratory symptoms.
- Pseudomonas are responsible for ear infections, skin rashes, and respiratory illness.
- Norovirus, Shigella, E. coli, and Giardia cause gastrointestinal disease.
- Avian schistosomes cause skin rashes.
- Algal toxins can cause skin irritation, gastrointestinal distress, and lung infection.
Officials often trace yearly outbreaks to hotel hot tubs. This is likely a result of the fact that so many different people visit them on a daily basis. The more people who use the hot tub, the higher the chance infection will occur.
Steps to Stay Protected
There’s no guaranteeing any pool or hot tub is pathogen-free, but there are effective ways for swimmers to reduce risks. Begin by visually inspecting the pool, making sure drains are clear and secure and the filtration system appears in working order. The water should be clear, not cloudy. Pool walls should be clean, never slimy, gummy, or sticky – this is a sign that algae has infiltrated the water.
The risk for transmission is higher in public swimming areas. For this reason, people with seriously compromised immune systems may want to avoid shared recreational spaces, lakes, rivers, and freshwater beaches altogether.
Swimmers can protect other visitors by refraining from swimming if they’ve had diarrhea within the last two weeks. Parents should check babies’ diapers regularly, removing themselves from the pool area to do any changing. Also, a quick shower before entering the pool will remove any dirt and germs that might use up unnecessary chlorine, which helps maintain water quality.
Keep summer fun and safe by staying cautious and knowing the risks. Even a clean, well-maintained pool or hot tub can be a lot dirtier than it looks, so be aware that there’s always a possibility of catching an RWI from any swim or soak. If in doubt, don’t hesitate to opt-out.
~Here’s to Your Health & Safety!
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