No one wants to have their pool day ruined this summer, but with the occurrence of recreational water illnesses, one may need to take extra precautions before and after swimming.
Recreational water illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, can arise when people swim in water containing certain germs or chemicals. RWIs can include ear infections, rashes, diarrheal illness and irritation of eyes and lungs.
Dr. Miguel Villarreal, staff physician at the Texas Tech Student Wellness Center, said diarrhea is the main illness that derives from being infected in swimming pools. He said if diarrhea lasts for more than two weeks or is severe, one should get help from a medical professional.
In addition to getting checked, Villarreal said a person should stay out of the pool when having diarrhea and should stay out two weeks after it has cleared.
“If symptoms are worse than usual, if symptoms are causing trouble with daily activities, then they should come on in and get checked out,” he said. “There are certain types of pneumonia that are possible, so if they are running fever, coughing a lot, come on in.”
Regarding a majority of RWIs, Villarreal said people who are infected just need to take time to heal. He said staying out of the pool when one is sick or when one has open wounds are ways to prevent obtaining and spreading RWIs.
“For the most part, most of the conditions that people get from the swimming pool are what we call self-limiting, which means they clear up on their own,” he said. “Just give it some time. Get some rest, get some fluids, and things will probably be fine.”
Regardless of the main symptoms of RWI’s, one may also consider how he or she gets infected while in a swimming pool.
As people swim in pools, Villarreal said the common parasite that one may face is Cryptosporidium. He said people with a normal immune system tend to clear out Crypto on their own, whereas people with a weakened immune system can have a lot of trouble with the parasite.
“The chlorine doesn’t kill that,” Villarreal said regarding Crypto. “It has a very tough shell around it. If somebody swallows water, then it will get into the intestinal system, and it can cause diarrhea.”
When swimming in a pool, one may want to know the measures that need to be taken to ensure a pool is clear of infections.
Kai Zhang, associate professor in the Tech Department of Biological Sciences, said swimming pools should be treated with chemicals, such as chlorine. He said the chemicals should eliminate most of the pathogens.
“It really depends on a lot of factors,” Zhang said regarding the efficiency of chemicals in killing pathogens. “Temperature, the water activity, the usage and things like that. Sometimes, the chemicals may not be sufficient.”
In some circumstances, a pool may need more chemicals, as there can be content in the pool, such as urine, vomit or feces, that needs to be removed, Zhang said. When accidents occur, he said emergency maintenance is necessary to clean the pool.
The strength of the chemical and the types of pathogens in the pool are other factors Zhang said can affect a pool’s level of contamination.
“On one hand, it depends on how fresh the chemical is,” he said. “Also, there are naturally some microbes that are more resistant to chlorine than others.”
Before going for a swim this summer, people may wonder how a staff keeps a pool clean for the public.
Jennifer Walker, aquatics and special programs coordinator at the City of Lubbock Parks and Recreation department, said maintenance crews at Lubbock pools need to complete certain tasks to keep the water clean. She said tasks can consist of checking the potential of Hydrogen levels, also known as pH levels, and adding disinfectant in the pools.
To help with the cleanliness of the water, Walker said pools have an automatic system that maintains the chlorine and pH levels whenever either one is low.
“We have to manually clean every day,” she said. “That just takes care of the water. Unfortunately, that doesn’t take care of anything else that happens in the water.”
Removing leaves and dirt from the water, cleaning pool decks and sanitizing restrooms and countertops are other tasks that are necessary to keep the area around the pool clean.
Regardless of how a pool is cleaned, one may need to consider the signs of when a pool is not properly maintained.
“If you’re swimming along the pool, and you notice there is some discoloration growing on the walls along the outside of the water,” Walker said regarding how green or black discoloration can be a sign of improper cleaning. “That doesn’t always necessarily mean your chemicals are imbalanced, and that your pool isn’t sanitized.”
Discoloration around the pool is a sign Walker said may just indicate a lack of cleaning and attention.
Regarding other ways to stay healthy during one’s trip to the pool, Walker said wearing proper swim attire and not entering the pool when one is sick can help.
“Most of the time, if someone gets a water illness, it’s because somebody else brought it in,” she said.
In addition to signs one should look out for when swimming, pool visitors may need take precautions to protect themselves from RWIs.
Dr. Jacob Nichols, infectious disease fellow at the Tech Health Sciences Center, said there are a variety of steps before, during and after a swim that people can take to stay healthy.
“Everybody should really shower before getting into a swimming pool,” he said. “If you have children, make sure they use the bathroom before they get in the pool.”
After swimming, Nichols said similar precautions need to be taken.
“Afterwards, kind of the same idea, you need to rinse off, wash off and try not to wear your bathing suit or trunks for long periods of time afterwards,” he said.
Wearing a swimming cap or ear molds to prevent infections in the ear canal and drying out one’s ears after a swim are other methods Nichols said are beneficial for people. He said people can take safety one step further by checking the chlorine or pH levels with testing strips or getting information about the pool’s maintenance.
“One of the other things you can do is ask who’s managing the pool to make sure how often are they checking the chlorine and pH levels,” Nichols said.
Regardless of the ways people can stay healthy after a swim, Nichols said it does not take a lot to get infected while swimming. Whether it be through swimming with an open cut or accidentally swallowing water, he said people can get infected in a variety of ways.
“Some of these, like Crypto, it’s a cyst that you ingest. It doesn’t take very many of them to make you sick,” he said. “Very few bacteria are needed to get very sick.”