You may want to think twice before you take another dip in a hotel swimming pool or wade into a water playground. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there’s a good chance there’s more in the water than just floaties and pool noodles.
You can probably guess where this is going, but let me spell it out for you.
According to the CDC, one in three recreational water-related disease outbreaks between 2000 and 2014 occurred at hotel pools or hot tubs.
The results of a 14-year study of public swimming venues in the U.S. was released today. It revealed that most of the outbreaks can be traced back to three types of waterborne germs: the Cryptosporidium (also known as “Crypto”) parasite, and Pseudomonas and Legionella bacteria.
The CDC says all three are hardy enough to survive pool-cleaning disinfectants and even chlorine if the environment is right.
Let’s talk about the Cryptosporidium bacteria first. It spreads in pools when someone infected with Crypto has diarrhea in the water, which then gets in the mouths of other swimmers.
(I know this is super gross, but hang in there. This stuff is important so you know how to avoid getting sick.)
Common pool additive chlorine doesn’t kill Crypto fast enough to keep people out of harm’s way. The CDC says Crypto can make otherwise healthy people sick for weeks, causing nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and, of course, diarrhea.
Pseudomonas and Legionella bacteria take hold in pools, hot tubs and water parks that haven’t been properly cleaned. When the germs bloom in slimy areas of swimming spots, even strong disinfectants may not kill them.
Getting sick with either type of bacteria is no walk in the park either. Pseudomonas can cause a rash or swimmer’s ear, and Legionella can cause flu-like symptoms and severe pneumonia.
People 50 years or older, current or former smokers and people with chronic lung disease or a weakened immune system are more likely to get sick from Legionella than younger healthy people, the CDC says.
Stay Safe When You Swim
Cryptosporidium, Pseudomonas and Legionella are invisible to the naked eye, so the best defense is a good offense. Here’s what the CDC recommends to stay healthy and keep from spreading disease around public swimming spots.
- Don’t get in the water if you have diarrhea, and don’t let your kids swim if they have it. If you know Crypto is the cause of the diarrhea, wait until two weeks after it stops to go swimming.
- Don’t swallow the water in public recreational swimming spots.
- Take your kids to the bathroom every hour and don’t change diapers near the water.
- Visit your state’s public-health department website to check out pool, hot tub or water playground inspection scores before you swim.
These extra water safety steps may seem like a hassle, but they’re worth it to stay healthy while you splash around.
Oh, and don’t forget the sunscreen.
Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She enjoys telling readers about affordable ways to stay healthy, so look her up on Twitter (@lisah) if you’ve got a tip to share.