Study Finds Many Public Pools Contaminated with Poop

There are few things more inviting than a cool, clear pool on a hot summer day. But a new federal report will have you thinking twice before dipping a toe in the water.

A new report in Atlanta found that 58% of pool filter samples taken from Atlanta area pools last summer contained E. coli, a bacteria found in human feces. While this study focused on pools in Atlanta, researchers suspect that fecal contamination is a problem in public pools throughout the United States – especially at water parks and other recreational water areas.

Swimming is a great way to get exercise, but pool users should be aware of how to prevent infections while swimming.

Preventing Infections in Public Pools

Swimmers often contaminate pool water when they have an accident in the water, or when human waste washes off their bodies into the pool because they don’t shower thoroughly before hitting the water, according to the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Chlorine and other disinfectants typically applied to pool water won’t kill germs instantly. That’s why it’s important for swimmers to protect themselves by not swallowing the water they swim in and to protect others by keeping feces and germs out of the pool by taking a pre-swim shower and not swimming when ill with diarrhea.

The CDC says all swimmers should take the following steps to keep feces out of pools and to prevent infections:

  • Don’t swim if you have diarrhea.
  • Shower with soap before swimming.
  • Take a rinse shower before getting back in the water.
  • Go to the bathroom every 60 minutes.
  • Wash your hands with soap after using the toilet or changing diapers.
  • Don’t swallow the water you swim in.

Parents of young children should take extra precautions to ensure there’s no transfer of germs by:

  1. Take children on bathroom breaks every 60 minutes or checking diapers every 30 to 60 minutes. (Make sure children are wearing water diapers designed to function in the pool – and not regular diapers.)
  2. Change all diapers in the bathroom or diaper-changing area and not at the poolside where germs can easily rinse into the water.

It’s especially important for people to avoid swimming when they have diarrhea, as other swimmers could swallow germ-laden water and potentially become ill.

The study appears in the May 17 issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Its release is timed in advance of Recreational Water Illness and Injury Prevention Week, May 20-26. The goal of the prevention week is to “raise awareness about healthy swimming, including ways to prevent recreational water illnesses (RWIs). Germs that cause RWIs are spread by swallowing, breathing in the mists or aerosols from, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, water parks, hot tubs, interactive fountains, water play areas, lakes, rivers, or oceans,” according to the CDC.

+ Read more on the CDC’s website.

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