Summertime is in full swing, and that means many of us are heading to the local pool in an attempt to beat the heat. However, before you dive in, you may want to read a little further.
Just because the water smells chlorine fresh, does not necessarily mean that it is safe to swim in. According to two recent studies involving treated vs untreated pool water by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) it would seem that in actually, the liberal use of chlorine in public pools seems to be making the water less safe, not to mention the pathogens that are floating in there from…well…another person’s urine.
For years the CDC has tracked any and all outbreaks reported to possibly involve pool water. In the past, it was primarily pathogens they were looking at, but now they have stated they are monitoring water-borne infections just as closely. This is because it would seem that there may be a rising danger of chlorine-tolerant bugs.
Keeping in mind that an “outbreak” is the reporting of two more individuals, with the same symptoms of an illness, acquired from the same location and time of exposure. Between 2000-2014, there were 403 specific outbreaks that involved treated recreational water—that includes pools, hot tubs, spas, and even water playgrounds. The reported outbreaks resulted in 27,219 people being sick, and of those eight were fatalities.
What is interesting is that the most reported outbreaks seem to occur in hotel pools more than anywhere else. Even though the infections reported varied in type, they all came down to one common factor—poop. Human poop. The majority of the infections involved pathogens that traveled the fecal-oral route. Simply the infected person swims in the water, the infectious pathogen travels into the water, and then another person either swallows some of the water or inhales droplets.
To help keep this in perspective, an average of 80% of reported illnesses from treated water were caused by Cryptosporidium, which is a parasite that takes up residence in animal intestines, then spreads by the process of shedding itself from feces into water sources. The reported illnesses from untreated water were more varied in cause and nature, but again the main connection was poop.
Although chlorine can work to control many of the pathogens in pools and spas that lead to illness in humans, the Crypto can survive even the most chlorinated water for more than a week. This resistance to chlorine enables the parasite to pass from swimmer, to swimmer, to swimmer and in the end causing an outbreak.
So, the next time you think of diving into a public pool, or relaxing in a hot tub stop a moment and remember, you are basically making yourself a target for any parasite or pathogens that might be swimming in there with you.