Understanding the Bacterial Threat Lurking In Our Nation's Pools

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Because large swaths of the country took to our nation’s public swimming pools for the first time this past Memorial Day weekend, we’ve been using May as a platform to provide numerous tips geared toward water safety.  But injury and drowning threats aren’t the only dangers out there.  A new report finds the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explaining that many of our country’s pools are filled with genetic material that isn’t dissimilar to human feces.

Last summer, the CDC conducted a study examining and collecting samples from public pools around the nation.  What they found was that a whopping 60% of the samples collected were positive for E. coli, a bacteria most typically indicative of a contamination of fecal matter.  And 59% tested positive for Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can lead someone exposed to it to suffer from an ear infection or a skin rash.  The diarrhea-causing bacteria Giardia and Cryptosporidium were found in fewer than 2% of samples.

So how is it that these dangerous types of bacteria can be found in water we swim in without giving a second thought?  Swimmers are partially to blame.  One in three or four people fail to shower prior to entering the water, which means that the traces of fecal matter contained on the average human body never get rinsed off and thus enter the water right along with each swimmer.

It’s also an unfortunate fact that many people don’t think twice about urinating in a public pool.  A survey from the Water Quality and Health Council found almost 20% of people copping to urination in a swimming pool.

When bacteria enters a swimming pool, it’s not going to be killed immediately.  Even if chlorine is abundant, bacteria can quickly make contact with another individual, causing an illness.  Gastroenteritis is the most common illness that derives from swimming, with the number of cases on the rise despite advances in disinfection systems at manmade pools.  The CDC believes that this could be a sign that operations are not being adequately carried out and that pools are possibly not being properly scrutinized by health authorities.

Although it will be up to the overseers of each pool to make sure chlorine levels are adequate and regulators must ensure the pool meets the proper standards, there are also steps you can take to ensure safety.  First, leave the bodily functions for the bathroom, and shower before you get in the water.  If you have a cold or suffer from diarrhea, delay swimming until you’re feeling better.  Close your mouth and eyes while swimming, and never swallow water from a pool.