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Many Public Pools Unfit for Swimming


Most children will be out of school for the summer next month, and one of the most popular places to go to get relief from the heat is a public pool. However, not all pools are clean and safe for swimming, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week.

The report, based on more than 120,000 routine inspections of public swimming pools in 13 states, found that one in eight were shut down after inspections due to issues such as inadequate chlorination and lack of safety equipment.

Of all the pools, which included those in public parks and at hotels and motels, kiddie pools and interactive fountains were found to have the most disinfection problems, and were commonly contaminated by fecal matter. Pools with the highest percent of immediate closures due to issues were child care facility pools, hotel/motel pools, and apartment/condo pools.

Recreational Water Illness (RWI) are increasing in the United States. Between 2005 and 2006, 78 outbreaks involving close to 4,500 people were reported in 31 states – the largest number of outbreaks ever in a two-year period.

Improperly chlorinated water puts all swimmers at risk for illness such as diarrhea and ear and skin infections. "Chlorine and pH are a key defense against germs that can make swimmers sick," said Michele Hlavsa, Chief of the Healthy Swimming Program at the CDC. Young children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are most susceptible to the germs.

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One such germ is called cryptosporidium, commonly called crypto, which is a chlorine-resistant parasite found in pools, ponds, and other bodies of water. The bug is often found in both human and animal feces and easily transmitted into water. When ingested, it can cause an illness for two weeks with symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and low grade fevers. According to the CDC, crypto cases have doubled in recent years. Since it is chlorine resistant, some pools and water parks, such as Seven Peaks in Provo, Utah have put into place an ultraviolet system that kills the parasite using black light.

To ensure healthy swimming, the CDC encourages swimmers to learn and follow the “Triple A’s of Healthy Swimming” - Awareness, Action, and Advocacy.

*Awareness: Learn about recreational water illnesses at the CDC’s Healthy Swimming website at healthyswimming.org.

* Action: Follow the “Six Steps for Healthy Swimming”
* Don′t swim when you have diarrhea.
* Don′t swallow pool water.
* Practice good hygiene. Shower with soap before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Germs on your body end up in the water.
* Take your kids on bathroom breaks or check diapers often.
* Change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area and not at poolside.
* Wash your children thoroughly (especially the rear end) with soap and water before they go swimming.

You should also ask the pool operator about chlorine and pH levels and learn the latest pool inspection score. If someone is not available, such as at an unattended pool, you can also check pool water quality yourself using test strips purchased at a local store. Free kits are also offered by the Water Quality and Health Council at healthypools.org/freeteststrips

*Advocacy: Take it upon yourself to educate other swimmers about RWI’s and encourage pool operators at the pools that you frequent to take greater steps to kill the germs that cause illness.

“Violations Identified from Routine Swimming Pool Inspections – Selected States and Counties, United States, 2008,” the report is published in this week′s issue of CDC′s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).