Blaaaaargggh. The Centers for Disease Control is reporting that in a study of public swimming pools conducted in 2012, 58 percent of pool filters tested positive for E. coli, bacteria normally found in the human gut and feces. The E. coli is a marker for fecal contamination, the CDC says.
What the CDC is trying to tell you is that there’s poop in the pool.
Although the E. coli is a marker for poop contamination, no samples tested positive for E. coli O157:H7, a toxin-producing E. coli strain that causes illness. So I’m sure you totally feel better now.
Cryptosporidium and Giardia, germs that are spread through feces and cause diarrhea, were found in less than 2 percent of samples.
Before you freak out too much, the water samples were taken from “filter backwash,” or the water that traps contaminants in the filters. I realize the whole concept of poop-contaminated filter backwash is enough to make you lose your lunch, but filters are supposed to trap this stuff. It’s how they work.
The CDC noted some other limitations of the study:
- Location: The pools sampled in this study are a convenience sample of pools in metro-Atlanta, and thus study findings cannot be generalized to pools in metro-Atlanta or beyond. However, the incidence of RWI outbreaks of acute gastrointestinal illness throughout the United States suggests that swimmers frequently introduce fecal material and pathogens into recreational water throughout the country. Alternate theory: only Atlanta-area pools are disgusting, and the one I go to is pristine. La la la I can’t hear you.
- The testing done doesn’t identify whether the germs were able to cause infections, which is a pretty important point. The tests identified microbes, but not whether the microbes were “viable” (infectious) or “inviable” (inactivated by disinfection). The CDC noted that there were no outbreaks of Recreational Water Illness (RWI) associated with pools in Georgia in 2012. So you might just have clean, disinfected poop in your pool. No worries!
- The study did not address recreational water parks, residential pools, or other types of recreational water. The CDC says that “it is unlikely that swimmer-introduced contamination, or swimmer hygiene practices, differ between pools in the study and those in the rest of the country.” This indicates that no one at the CDC has ever been to a water park. At least at public pools, people can be shamed into showering first. There is no shame at the water park. None at all.
Additionally, more than half the pools tested positive for P. aeruginosa, a microbe that is found in soil, on skin, and in virtually every man-made environment. If pools aren’t properly maintained and disinfected, the CDC says, P. aeruginosa can cause ear infections and skin rashes.
So, what can you do? Here’s what the CDC recommends:
- Do not swim when you have diarrhea. OH MY GAH, did we really just have to tell people that? Apparently we did.
- Shower with soap before you start swimming. Yes, you. With soap.
- Parents should check diapers every 30-60 minutes, and both adults and children should take bathroom breaks every 60 minutes. You don’t have to go? Well, go try anyway.
- Take a rinse shower before you get back into the water. They mean after your bathroom break.
- Wash your hands with soap after using the toilet or changing diapers. No way.
- Check the chlorine level and pH before getting into the water. Most superstores, hardware stores, and pool-supply stores sell pool test strips. Pools: Proper chlorine (1–3 mg/L or parts per million [ppm]) and pH (7.2–7.8) levels maximize germ-killing power. Convince yourself you’re not a germaphobe helicopter parent by turning it into a fun science lesson for the kiddos!
- Do not swallow the water you swim in. But then how will my children stay hydrated?
- Parents should change diapers in the bathroom or diaper-changing area and not at poolside where germs can rinse into the water. Seriously.
To sum up, the CDC would like us all to be somewhat less disgusting, because swimming is a super-healthy activity aside from the poop stuff.
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto)
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