There's Probably Diarrhea Residue In Your Public Swimming Pool

Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Here's a fun fact as we head into summer: about 1 in 4 adults say that they would go swimming in a public pool while they have diarrhea.
The (disgusting) stat comes from a new survey of more than 3,000 adults on behalf of the Water Quality and Health Council, which in combination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Swimming Pool Foundation wants to warn pool-goers of the health risks that come from swimming in, and swallowing, contaminated pool water.
The survey also found that more than half of adults rarely or never shower before jumping in the pool, and that about 60% admit to swallowing pool water.
While the first two numbers are a bit concerning, we can't say we're shocked by the number of people who swallow a little water now and then. If you're having a good time at the pool it's basically impossible not to get a little water in your mouth.
The real risk, here, is the people who choose to get into a public pool even though they're sick and those who don't think to rinse themselves off before they get in the water — public pools have showers for a reason, and it's not just so you can rinse off the chlorine when you get out.
Taking the extra step to rinse yourself down before you get in the pool, even just for one minute, washes away a majority of the dirt and bacteria that you'd otherwise be introducing to the water, according to the researchers.
Photo: Courtesy of Water Quality and Health Council.
But they suggest anyone who has had diarrhea stay away from public swimming pools or waterparks for at least two weeks. The CDC is particularly worried about a parasite called Cryptosporidium (or Crypto for short), which causes diarrhea and also lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, stomach cramps or pain, and fever in some cases.
“Normal chlorine disinfection of swimming pool water does a great job in destroying most germs, but Crypto presents a special challenge,” Chris Wiant, chair of the Water Quality and Health Council, said in the statement. “A healthy pool depends on swimmers being considerate of one another. Showering before swimming, refraining from peeing in the pool, and not swimming for two weeks after experiencing diarrhea can help keep swimming fun and healthy for everyone from ‘water babies’ to seniors.”
Crypto is most commonly spread through water, and can live up to 10 days even in well-treated pools, according to the study.
This is all disgusting and maybe even frightening news, but don't let it ruin your summer plans. For the most part, going swimming — even in public — isn't like dipping your head into a cesspool. The chlorine levels recommended by the CDC for public pools does kill a majority of bacteria almost instantly, so they really pose little risk to your health.
Still, the CDC and the Water Quality and Health Council have a few suggestions for how you can do your part to make swimming even safer.
1. "Stay out of recreational water [like pools, waterparks, or the beach] if sick with diarrhea and until diarrhea-free for two weeks. Patients typically continue to shed Crypto for up to two weeks after diarrhea stops."
2. "Shower before you get in the water. Rinsing off in the shower for just one minute removes most of the dirt or anything else on your body."
3. "Don’t swallow the water."
4. "Report diarrhea incidents that occur in the water to aquatics staff immediately."
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