- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

ATLANTA (AP) — Seeing diaper-clad infants in her neighborhood swimming pool without protective rubber pants led Karen Byers to search for a new place to take a dip.

She had good reason to be concerned. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more Americans — perhaps 1,000 or more each year — are getting sick from public swimming pools.

That is few when you consider the millions of people who go swimming. However, reported pool-related outbreaks — mainly bouts of diarrhea — rose from two in 1986 to 21 in 2000, the most recent CDC statistics available.

Although the agency does not keep track of how many people were affected in those cases, it does know that most of the 16,800 confirmed illnesses in the 1990s linked to outbreaks in recreational waters occurred in swimming pools and spas.

“And that’s only a fraction of what’s out there,” said Michael Beach, epidemiologist with the CDC’s division of parasitic diseases. “There are definitely a lot more cases that are not being reported. We believe some of the biggest outbreaks are in pools.”

The latest numbers from the federal agency show that more than 1,800 pools had to be closed immediately after inspections found serious health violations that put swimmers at risk, such as not having enough disinfectant to kill germs in the water. The CDC analyzed 22,131 inspections conducted two years ago and found that 54 percent uncovered one or more pool safety violations, everything from filtration to chlorine problems.

“That’s a shocking number for us to see — those are clearly violations that mean, ‘Everybody out,’” Mr. Beach said.

Government health officials are urging pool operators and swimmers to do more to prevent the spread of disease. They are pressing for more regular inspections and better staff training — and encouraging swimmers to stay out of the pool when they have diarrhea.

“We need to do a better job of maintaining the pools and spas in this country,” Mr. Beach said.

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