- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 11, 2000

Most people pay attention to pool safety, taking care to avoid diving injuries, drowning and sunburn.
But what those same swimmers often fail to remember is that just being in a pool with other swimmers puts them at a small risk of getting a bacterial or parasitic illness.
"What people have forgotten is that swimming is essentially communal bathing," says Dr. Michael Beach, staff epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Just because you smell chlorine, that does not mean a pool is sterile. We don't want to make people afraid of water. Most water is safe. Millions of people visit pools each summer with no problems. We just want the public to be aware that illness can occur."
Fifteen cases of gastrointestinal illness outbreaks from swimming pools were reported to the CDC in 1998, the most recent year for which numbers are available. That number, however, actually might be higher because most people who become ill will not associate their illness with a visit to the pool, Dr. Beach says.
Most outbreaks were attributed to Cryptosporidium, a parasite that can be resistant to chlorine at levels generally used in pools.
Outbreaks occur when babies with diarrhea and leaky diapers swim in a pool that is not properly chlorinated, Dr. Beach says. The parasite can be troublesome if a swimmer with cuts and scrapes comes in contact with contaminated water. Gastrointestinal illness is caused when a swimmer swallows contaminated water. It is the bacteria in feces but not urine that causes disease.
"If a pool is properly chlorinated, it is going to kill the bacteria," he says. "The E. coli outbreak [at an Atlanta water park in 1998] was generally attributed to low chlorine levels. If people are vigilant about keeping up chlorine levels, pools will be properly chlorinated."
Ultraviolet rays can immediately weaken chlorine's strength. That is why most pools' chemical levels must be checked hourly, says Doug McHale, director of aquatics at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase YMCA.
"A pool's cleanliness is only as good as its staff," he says.
If you have any doubts about the cleanliness of a pool, watch and ask, Dr. Beach advises.
"Watch to see if the pool staff is visibly testing the water," he says. "They need to constantly monitor it. Home pools need less attention because there are fewer people using them."
A shallow "kiddie pool" many appear to be a higher-risk environment than a lap pool, but Dr. Beach says that is no guarantee of safety. At many pool facilities, the wading pool shares the same filtration and water supply as the other pools.
"We have recommended to designers that in the future they separate the two," he says. "A high concentration of children in diapers carries enough contaminants that it is probably a better thing to separate the water supplies."
The CDC offers these tips for safe swimming this summer:
Do not take your child in the water if he has diarrhea. Swim diapers have not been proved to contain accidents effectively.
Do not swallow the water. Chlorine does not kill all germs.
Wash your hands after changing a diaper.
Do not change diapers near the pool.
Take your child for bathroom breaks often.
People with AIDS or other compromised immune systems (such as people receiving chemo-therapy), to whom a Cryptosporidium could be deadly, should reconsider using a public pool.

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