Summer has arrived and with it a favorite seasonal pastime, swimming. Stop and think about what’s in the water of your local pool and the urge to dive right in may falter. Here’s everything you need to know about how your family can practice healthy swimming.
Germs and Outbreaks
Between the years 2000 and 2014, approximately 500 pool-related parasite outbreaks were reported to the CDC. According to Michele Hlavsa, chief of the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, over 200 of those outbreaks were caused by Cryptosporidium, an extremely chlorine-tolerant parasite.
“At the chlorine level CDC recommends, most germs are killed within minutes,” Hlavsa tells Parentology. “Crypto can survive for seven days or more.”
The CDC’s number one recommendation for keeping Crypto parasites out of the water — don’t let your kids swim when they’re sick with diarrhea.
When pee, poop, sweat, and dirt get into the water, these wastes react with the chlorine, leaving less chlorine available to kill germs.
Families can help ensure the chemistry of pool water is safe and healthy by: showering before getting into the pool, not peeing and pooping in the water and taking kids on bathroom breaks/checking diapers every hour.
Before you go swimming in a public pool, check the inspection score of that pool, just like you would check the inspection score of a restaurant before sitting down for a meal. Where they’re found? Hlvasa says, “Pool inspection scores might be found online at a state or local health department website, or they might be found at the waterside.”
Outbreaks aren’t limited to only public pools. Lakes and other natural bodies of water factor into the equation, too.
“We saw approximately 140 outbreaks from 2000 to 2014 in natural bodies of water,” Hlavsa says. “And when we looked at what germs caused them, there was a bigger variety.”
Each lake has its own ecology — and that ecology is very different from our pools, where chlorine is monitored to ensure proper levels.
To be aware of the healthiness of natural bodies of water, Hlavsa advises following signs posted on the shore. “If there’s a sign that says the beach is closed for health reasons, stay out of the water.”
Preventing Chemical Injuries
Pool chemical injuries can be a very real problem, especially for kids. “Each year, 4,500 people go to U.S. emergency departments for pool chemical injuries,” Hlavsa says. “About a third of patients are under 18 years old.”
Injuries of this kind most commonly seen are poisonings caused by inhaling fumes or dust from pool chemicals and chemical burns and injuries involving the eyes.
Still, Hlavsa says, “We need pool chemicals like chlorine to stop the spread of germs in pools and prevent outbreaks linked to swimming. On the flip side, pool chemicals being mishandled can cause injury.”
The most common place for these types of accidents — “Over half of the pool chemical injuries that send people to ER’s occur at the home,” Hlavsa says.
The CDC’s message to outdoor pool owners is simple: pool chemical injuries are preventable, so be proactive and take steps to avoid them.
• Follow the directions on product labels and keep chemicals out of children’s reach.
• Don’t mix chemicals, especially and chlorine and acid, as they have a violent reaction that creates a toxic gas.
• If you see chemicals left around at a public pool, let the staff know.
To learn more about healthy swimming, visit the CDC’s Healthy Swimming page.
Michele Hlavsa, chief of the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program