The Ugly Truth about Public Swimming Pools and Recreational Water Illnesses

Is it really safe to swim in a public pool?
Is it really safe to swim in a public pool?

How often do you swim in public pools?

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While reading this morning's newspaper, this headline caught my eye: "Phoenix closes all city pools." The article explained that an intestinal parasite called Cryptosporidium was discovered at one location. There is one confirmed case in addition to 29 others who are suffering diarrhea from the disease. As a precaution, all the city pools will be closed for cleaning at least for the next few days.

Naturally, my first reaction was...YUCK! After voicing my disgust, I wanted to know more about the cleanliness and safety of public pool water. Most of us have joyfully splashed in a public swimming pool or water park at one time or another, but few people consider what could be living in that inviting blue water. We assume the water is highly chlorinated, rendering it germ free. While it is true that chlorination will kill pathogens such as E. coli and shigella, other parasites remain unharmed by even high levels of chlorine, as evidenced by the recent Phoenix outbreak.

In her article "The Germy Truth about Public Swimming Pools", Connie Chettle discusses two pathogens, Cryptosporidium and Giardia, that cause diarrheal illnesses associated with swimming pools and water parks. These bugs are commonly found in recreational water because they can withstand chlorination. Cryptosporidium, for example, is highly resistant to chlorine and survives up to eleven days in chlorinated pool water because it is small enough to escape pool filters. Giardia, on the other hand, is moderately resistant to chlorine and only survives about an hour because its larger structure can be trapped by pool filtration.

Both of these pathogens are transmitted by the fecal to oral route. This means the parasites are transmitted through stool that comes in contact with a person's mouth. In the swimming pool, infected stool gets in the water, most commonly because of children and babies in diapers. The contaminated water is then ingested by other swimmers, leading to infection.

Life Cycle of Cryptosporidium

Cryptosporidium is an intestinal parasite that causes severe diarrhea.
Cryptosporidium is an intestinal parasite that causes severe diarrhea.

The symptoms of Cryptosporidium and Giardia are similar and usually appear within seven to fourteen days after exposure. They include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and dehydration. There is no reliable treatment for Cryptosporidium. Most people recover within one month without treatment. Giardia can endure for months, so medication is recommended. Flagyl is the most common medication used to treat Giardia.

Although contamination of pool water is more common than we realize, swimming remains a fun and healthy activity that people all over the world enjoy. Prevention is the easiest way to tackle the transmission of recreational water illnesses. Follow these recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to promote healthy swimming in pools and water parks:

  • Don't swim when you have diarrhea. You can spread germs in the water and make other people sick. This is especially important for kids in diapers.
  • Don't swallow the pool water. In fact, avoid getting water in your mouth. Stress this point with your children.
  • Practice good hygiene. Take a shower before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Germs on your body end up in the water.
  • Take your kids on bathroom breaks or check diapers often. Waiting to hear "I have to go" may mean that it's too late.
  • Change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area and not at poolside. Germs can spread to surfaces and objects in and around the pool and cause illness.
  • Wash your child thoroughly (especially the rear end) with soap and water before swimming. Everyone has invisible amounts of fecal matter on their bottoms that end up in the pool.

If you are still completely disgusted by what might lurk in the public pool water, my suggestion is to set up a "water park" for your kids in your own back yard. A small plastic pool, sprinklers, and water balloons can be just as fun, less expensive, and much healthier.

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Comments 21 comments

Karen N profile image

Karen N 8 years ago from United States

yuck, I didn't realize that was such a problem!

shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 8 years ago from Arizona Author

Yeah, it's really disgusting. After this happened in Phoenix, many of the surrounding suburbs tested their pools and splash pads for the same parasite, and sure enough, many of them had to close for the same reason. Needless to say, we haven't been going to the public pool or the splash pad this summer!

Thanks for the comment.

Motherhood Trials 7 years ago

Very grose ! What might you know of hot tubs and indoor heated pools? Does the temperature(of the water) ever play a part in the survivel of such parasites? This was unpleasent to hear but well written and Informative. Thanks for posting the "nasty truth"

shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 7 years ago from Arizona Author

I know, it's really yucky. One article I read says that Cryptosporidium will die in boiling water but will survive in a coffee maker. I'm not sure what temperature the water reaches in a coffee maker, but I'm sure it's hotter than a spa or heated pool. So my guess is that spas and heated pools aren't hot enough to kill the parasites. Sorry for the bad news!

Motherhood Trials 7 years ago

Thanks for the update. Perhaps what you called bad news is rather better news than what the answer could have been. After-all, could you imagine the looks I would get on the next vacation when I told the children that I was about to relax in the hot tub but they on the other hand, were not allowed to play ball in the heated pool next to me ! lol I guess if it can not be good news, atleast it is across the board ! Thanks again .

shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 7 years ago from Arizona Author

MT- I guess you're right!

motherwhood 7 years ago

omg i never knew that plus i know my self im a clean freak i will not alow my kids to go swimming in those nasty public pools ill ask someone to dig a pool in my back yard it will be much safer thank you very much for the info peace out

shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 7 years ago from Arizona Author

Yes, it's really gross. I took my son to the splash pad a couple times before finding this out, and now I cringe just thinking about it. A backyard pool is definitely better if you have that option. Thanks for reading!

KellyEngaldo 7 years ago

Hot tubs may be safer IF they have ozonated water which most do - ozonated water will kill bacteria - MRSA too! Excellent hub! Enjoyed the graphics which gave a great visual for the life cycle of crypto.

I love the water for fitness but know the bacteria loves water too! Everyone needs to be aware of this.

Canada I am told mandates ozone for all commercial swimming pools which effectively combats both MRSA and crypto.

shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 7 years ago from Arizona Author

Thanks for reading, Kelly. I'll have to research the ozonated water. I haven't heard of that being done. If it kills MRSA it must be very effective!

Kenny 7 years ago

Having a pool in your own home can be much safer and healthier for you and your family. You are in control of what goes into your pool between people and chemicals. There is no telling what is going on in public pools. I have seen horrible things happening in even the nicest of public pools, like diapers sitting right near luxury apartment complex pools. It is a scary, disgusting site indeed.

BeiYin profile image

BeiYin 7 years ago from Ibiza Spain

I know this since many years and I have been avoiding public pools. Now I live surrounded by open sea and wonder about how much this water is contaminated... Health food people say one shouldn't eat fish any more because of the mercury pollution. Probably any information is suppressed because the country lives in great part from tourists. I suggest that you make a new hub about the pollution of the oceans and what the result is.

Hummingbird5356 profile image

Hummingbird5356 6 years ago

I always used to go once a week to the pool. Now I think I will avoid public pools. A very good hub. Thank you.

What's News 6 years ago

I hate going to public pools.

splashpads profile image

splashpads 6 years ago from USA

Gross hopefully the new splash pads help as apposed to the community pool

Pamela 6 years ago

I didn't know this information on there could still be germs in the public swimming baths! - And even if there was, I would have thought it wouldn't have been so disgusting. Thanks for the info. - I wont be going to a public baths again!

- Pamela.

Karen Reader 6 years ago

Reading this grossed me out because all of this very true. Let's try to keep our pools and spas as clean as possible!

Casey Ollson 6 years ago

We need to keep our pools and public pools clean! That is done by skimming, brushing, chlorinating, and most importantly keeping the pH levels balanced at all times.

News 5 years ago

Yes, public pools are indead disgusting.

Dude 4 years ago

Yuck imagine the vaj water....

Hellraiser 4 years ago

I try to avoid everything public as much as I can (public phones, bathrooms, pools, etc.). Most people have a lower hygiene standard than what is perceived as the social hygiene standard. In other words, most people are dirty, therefore most public things are dirty.

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