CDC: Swimming Pool Infections Common

Poor Pool Maintenance Blamed for Intestinal-Bug Outbreaks

From the WebMD Archives

June 5, 2003 -- Blame dirty pools for the recent upswing in swimming pool infections. The reason: Swimming pool inspections are inadequate, a CDC study suggests.

Serious germs lurk in public pools. Kids are particularly vulnerable to swimming pool infections. And the smaller the child, the more likely the infection will be serious, the CDC notes in a special report. The study, with editorial comment, appears in the June 6 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

One in four serious swimming pool infectious outbreaks involve germs that could be killed by proper pool chlorine levels.

To get a handle on the problem, the CDC collected the results of more than 22,000 swimming pool inspections. More than 19,000 were from Florida; the rest came from Los Angeles; Allegheny County, Penn.; St. Louis; St. Paul, Minn.; and Wyoming.

Pool chemistry changes quickly. Pool filters get clogged. Filtration systems break down. Yet state and local resources usually permit only one to three inspections a year of public pools and water parks.

Dirty Pools

An example of the problem: More than two-thirds of the inspections analyzed by the CDC failed to include information on the type of pool (for example, a hotel/motel pool or a water park).

Even so, the data are alarming:

  • More than half of inspections found at least one violation.
  • In 8% of the inspections, a gross violation led authorities to immediately close the pool.
  • Nearly 40% of the pools had problems with the water chemistry -- meaning that germs could easily grow there.
  • Nearly 40% of the pools had problems with the filtration systems, again suggesting that germs could contaminate the water.
  • More than one in five pools had "policy and management" problems that might lead to poor pool maintenance.

Pool Types, Pool Problems

The least safe pools:

  • Nearly one in four kids' wading pools had chlorine violations.
  • 14% of medical/therapy pools had chlorine violations.
  • 14% of hotel/motel pools had chlorine violations.
  • 8% of water parks had chlorine violations.
  • Half of school/university pools had filtration problems.

Advice for Swimmers

The CDC says:

  • Don't go swimming in a pool if you are ill with diarrhea.
  • Don't swallow pool water.
  • Practice good pool hygiene. Wash your hands. Take frequent bathroom breaks. Kids who need them should wear diapers -- but only clean ones.

The CDC says it is developing new guidelines for pool operation. But it also stresses the need for much more frequent state and local pool inspections. In its editorial, the CDC notes that the current system "cannot ensure compliance with state and local pool regulations."

SOURCE: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, June 6, 2003.

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