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Clear the Pool: Diarrhea Outbreaks Can Be Prevented

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The CDC is advising pool operators to intensify their filtration and chlorination practices. Pool operators should also educate swimmers that anyone with diarrhea -- adults and children -- should not swim in pools while they are ill and for two weeks after diarrhea ceases, the report says.

"Swimming is a shared-water experience," says Beach. "If someone ill with diarrhea contaminates the water and you swallow the water, you're going to get infected."

Practicing better hygiene also helps, Beach tells WebMD. His advice:

  • After using the restroom, wash your hands.
  • Change baby diapers in a restroom diaper changing station -- not on the chaise lounge, picnic table, or alongside the pool. Wash your hands afterwards.
  • Don't swallow pool water, even a little bit.
  • Children and adults should not swim if they have diarrhea. Encourage children to take regular bathroom breaks when they're swimming to reduce the chance of fecal accidents.

"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.

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