As you head to the local pool or water playground to cool off this summer, simple steps can protect you and your family from germs that could be lurking in the water.
Chlorinated water kills most germs within minutes, but one parasite – Cryptosporidium – can survive up to 10 days in properly treated water. Swallowing just one mouthful of contaminated water can make a healthy person sick for up to three weeks with watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and dehydration.
Crypto outbreaks, tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are becoming more common in swimming pools and water playgrounds. The number of outbreaks in 2016 – at least 16 nationwide – doubled from 8 in 2014. The Cryptosporidium parasite spreads when people swallow something contaminated with the feces of a sick person. One person with diarrhea can easily contaminate the water in a large pool or water park because their stool can contain millions of germs.
“To help protect your family and friends from Crypto and other diarrhea-causing germs, do not swim or let your kids swim if sick with diarrhea,” said Michele Hlavsa, R.N., M.P.H., chief of CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program. “Protect yourself from getting sick by not swallowing the water in which you swim.”
Follow these steps from the CDC to protect yourself and others from germs that cause diarrhea:
- Don’t swim or let your kids swim if sick with diarrhea.
- If diarrhea is caused by Crypto, wait until two weeks after diarrhea has stopped to go swimming.
- Don’t swallow the water in which you swim.
- Rinse off in the shower before getting in the water to help remove any germs on your body that could contaminate the water.
- Take kids on bathroom breaks often, and check diapers in a diaper-changing area and not right next to the pool.
If you own a pool or hot tub, keeping your chemicals balanced will help protect yourself, your family and your guests from recreational water illnesses. CDC health authorities say you should test the chlorine and pH levels in your pool or hot tub/spa at least twice per day or more if people are swimming often.
If used properly, free chlorine can kill most germs within a few minutes. CDC recommends pH 7.2–7.8 and a free chlorine concentration of at least 1 ppm in pools and at least 3 ppm in hot tubs/spas.
If using cyanuric acid, a chlorine stabilizer, or chlorine products with cyanuric acid (for example, products commonly known as dichlor or trichlor, CDC recommends pH 7.2–7.8 and a free available chlorine concentration of at least 2 ppm in pools. CDC recommends not using cyanuric acid or chlorine products with cyanuric acid in hot tubs/spas.
If you follow the CDC’s chlorine and pH recommendations, it can take from minutes to days to kill certain parasites, bacteria and viruses:
- E. coli – less than 1 minute.
- Hepatitis A – about 16 minutes.
- Giardia – roughly 45 minutes.
- Cryptosporidium – about 11 days.