Swim, Don't Swallow: Water-Borne Illnesses at New Highs
Beware: Chlorine doesn't kill all in swimming pools.
Who Me? Sick?
After relieving themselves (pun intended) of the above
opinions, respondents to the ORC poll reported:
- 72% had red eyes
- 32% had ear infections
- 20% had a rash
- 10% had eye infections
- 6% got a respiratory or urinary tract infections
- 5% got a skin infection
- 4% experienced diarrhea
Michael W. Shannon, MD, is chief of emergency medicine at
Children's Hospital in Boston. He says there seems to be a natural uptick in
gastrointestinal illnesses in kids in summer, but he had never related it to
gulping pool water before. "You could argue we are not looking for the pool
as a cause," Shannon says. "Now I will be."
Eyeball Before You Cannonball
The Centers for Disease Control recommends using your senses to
evaluate a pool before jumping in:
- Sight. The water should look clean, clear, and blue -- all the way
to the bottom. You should be able to see the drain and the stripes on the
bottom. Be sure the water is constantly lapping over the grills to be
- Touch. The sides of the pool should be smooth, not slippery or
sticky. A handful of water should not stick to your hands.
- Smell. Chlorine should not have a strong smell. A strong
chlorine-like odor can mean chloramines -- which are chemicals comprised of
chlorine mixed with body oil, sweat, urine, saliva, lotions, and feces.
- Sound. Listen for pool-cleaning equipment.
How to Be a Good Pool Citizen
- Report problems to the pool manager; don't pretend it's "not
- Don't swim if you have diarrhea.
- Don't swallow water -- swim with your mouth closed, breathing only when
your mouth is out of the water.
- Take a shower before swimming.
- Wash hands after changing a baby's diaper (and change kids in the bathroom
not next to the pool).
- Take the kids on potty breaks, whether they ask or not. Check diapers
often. If you hear, "I have to go," this can mean the child is already
- Wash kids before swimming, especially their hind parts.
- Toddlers should wear special "swim diapers" and even these are not
In the ORC poll, most people said it was the pool owner's
responsibility to keep the pool clean. Only a fifth said it was the task of the
swimmers or parents.
But think about it -- how many pool owners will you see gulping
pool water this year in a public pool?
"Right now there is no quick fix for water-borne
illnesses," Beach says. "Standards vary by state. All you can do is be
realistic. Chlorine does not kill everything."
Don't stop swimming, he says, but be healthy and responsible