Summer is here. Everybody in the pool! But don't drink the water, because a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study has found that human feces are frequently introduced into public pool water by swimmers, greatly increasing the threat of E. coli contamination.
In an August 2012 study, CDC researchers found traces of E. coli bacteria - normally found in human feces -- in 58% of public pools tested in the Atlanta, GA area counties of Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett.
While the study sampled pools in a limited geographic area, the CDC suggests that the levels and causes of "swimmer-introduced contamination" would be similar throughout the nation.
The CDC's study included both indoor and outdoor public pools, but did not address water parks, residential pools or other types of recreational water.
"Swimming is an excellent way to get the physical activity needed to stay healthy," said Michele Hlavsa, chief of CDC's Healthy Swimming Program in a press release. "However, pool users should be aware of how to prevent infections while swimming."
CDC's recommendations for healthy swimming included:
- Do not swallow the water you swim in.
- Do not swim when you have diarrhea.
- Shower with soap before you start swimming.
- Take bathroom breaks every 60 minutes.
- Wash your hands with soap after using the toilet or changing diapers.
- Take children on bathroom breaks every 60 minutes or check diapers every 30-60 minutes.
"Remember, chlorine and other disinfectants don't kill germs instantly," added Hlavsa. "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 also noted that the same "do not swallow the water" rule for avoiding recreational water illnesses should be followed in all swimming pools (public and private), water parks, hot tubs, interactive fountains, water play areas, lakes, rivers, or oceans.