It’s swimming in bacteria, parasites and urine
Sometimes, it’s inevitable. That cannonball into the pool results in a mouthful of water. You spit it out quickly, but the damage may have already been done. You may have ingested a little bit of water, either through your mouth or your nose.
Seems innocent enough, but that pool water you just drank could make you sick.
“In addition to chlorine, which is found in most pools, swallowing some pool water or getting it up your nose could expose you to E. coli, norovirus and parasites like Giardia, Cryptosporidium and Shigella,” explained Geisinger primary care physician Dr. Kara Brezinski Clark, DO.
Contrary to popular belief, adding chlorine to a pool does not instantly kill germs and bacteria. In fact, it takes several minutes to a few days to kill off all the germs in a pool. Cryptosporidium (also known as Crypto), in particular, is difficult to kill.
“Crypto is pretty intolerant of chlorine even in a pool that’s well-maintained and monitored. It can live for days, striking those unsuspecting swimmers who accidentally ingest water,” said Dr. Clark.
People infected with Crypto can experience diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting for up to three weeks.
How do these germs get in there in the first place? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we each carry .14 grams of feces into the pool when we take a dip, and that doesn’t count people who might have diarrhea.
Unfortunately, Crypto is getting more widespread. The CDC reports that outbreaks have doubled since 2014.
The key to killing off the majority of germs that could make you sick is by making sure the pool is at the right chlorine level.
Putting the “P” in Pool
Fecal matter isn’t the only thing you’re swimming with when you take a dip in the pool. There’s a lot of pee in it, too. Public pools contain about 20 gallons of urine, while a smaller residential pool likely contains about two gallons. That equates to a very small percentage, but it’s enough to cause some worry.
“Urine, sweat and body oils react with the chlorine in pool water to create strong-smelling chemical compounds that are dangerous in large amounts,” said Dr. Clark. “In most cases these compounds haven’t been found in large amounts, but it’s still unhealthy.”
To avoid getting yourself or others sick from the pool, don’t pee in it. You should also shower before entering a pool—rinsing off for just a few minutes can wash away sweat, oils and fecal matter.
“And please, don’t swim in the pool if you have diarrhea or you’ve experienced it in the past two weeks,” said Dr. Clark.
Geisinger primary care physician Dr. Kara Brezinski Clark, DO, sees patients at Geisinger Dallas. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Clark or another primary care physician, please call 570-675-2000 or visit Geisinger.org.