Clear the Pool: Diarrhea Outbreaks Can Be Prevented
"This parasite is very small in size, so it challenges even the best filtration system," Beach tells WebMD. "You don't need to swallow very many of them to get sick. It takes only one accident to spread infection to everyone in the pool, because [the bug] exists in very high quantities in diarrheal stools."
The CDC's goal "is not to scare people against swimming," he says. "It's a fantastic exercise activity. And most people don't get sick. The point is, we can do something about reducing the risk. Swim responsibly. It's in everyone's health interest to take care of this."
In some states, things are changing out there to make swimming pools, spas, and water parks cleaner.
In Georgia, only 30 counties currently follow the state's pool code, says Peter Conrady, aquatics coordinator with Cobb County, Ga. and chair of the Georgia Recreation and Parks Association's Aquatics Section. In recent years, an E. coli outbreak in one of that county's water parks created a big stir in local and national media.
But as of June 1, all of Georgia's counties will be following the same code, which has been revised based on guidelines set by the CDC and other agencies, Conrady tells WebMD. "We're making an effort to increase chlorine levels in pools and spas, creating awareness of maintaining those levels and testing the water more often." New personnel will be hired to check the state's water facilities on a regular basis.
In the city pools she oversees, "we've been performing hourly chemical checks -- of chlorine and pH levels to maintain a pool environment that is germ and parasite unfriendly," says Mary Miller, director of recreation and community services for the city of Decatur, Ga. "Some pools are just starting to do this, but we've been doing these checks for years now," she tells WebMD.
When fecal contamination occurs, "we immediately empty the pool, remove the waste from the pool, raise the chlorine level to three parts per million [one part/million is maintenance level]," says Miller. In fact, state regulations are being rewritten to raise pool maintenance levels to the higher number, she says.
Harder to enforce, but just as important: "A child has to be either in swim diapers, leak-proof swimsuits, or diapers with tight-fitting plastic pants," Miller says. "We sell swim diapers here, sell them at cost. We're not out to make money; we just want to protect our patrons."
The pool policy is also posted near the door, to keep the public informed and help staff reinforce the rules, she says.
But making kids take extra trips to the bathroom?
"That's a good idea," Miller says. "Our day camp kids always go before they get into the water. But we certainly can encourage all the kids to take bathroom breaks more often."