For many people, summer means swimming – or at least, splashing around in the water. Swimming pools and water parks are big hits during the warmer months, and it’s easy to see why. They’re a great way to cool down and have some fun, not to mention entertaining kids and adults alike
Yet they can also harbour bacteria, viruses and parasites that can make you ill… even when they look clean
Swimming pools, bather safety and water quality
Swimming pools usually look sparkling clean and ready to use, and they should be. Ongoing pool maintenance is required to keep them that way. We all know the aroma of chlorine at our local pool, and it’s important that those in charge of maintenance should check those levels to be sure they are always adequate. It’s also important to check pH levels to be sure they are sufficient as well.
However, every year there will be people who fall ill after going swimming. Even a well-maintained pool can have bacteria, viruses, and parasites in it. Furthermore, many such germs make it into the pool courtesy of hitching a ride on us. And faeces tend to be the most common route for this to occur!
How dangerous is faecal contamination in pool water?
No matter how clean we are, most people do have a tiny amount of faecal matter on them most of the time. This means most people using a swimming pool will take that faecal matter into the water with them. It then washes off in the water, ready for others to ingest if they happen to accidentally take in some water while they are swimming. And most of us do manage to ingest a small amount pool water, no matter how careful we are.
This can potentially lead to a stomach upset, with diarrhoea being the most likely outcome. Other swimming-related illnesses that tend to occur include skin rashes, ear and eye infections, and a cough, depending on where the germs enter the body and cause trouble.
What is cryptosporidium and is it bad for pools?
That’s where swimming pool disinfection routines come in. If ongoing maintenance and disinfection procedures are in place, there should be no reason to worry since the chlorine will kill most of the germs in the pool. However, some of those germs are much more determined than others.
Cryptosporidium is one of the most determined parasites that can cause issues to those using swimming pools and similar water-based venues. Cryptosporidium loves being in the water and survives there happily, so if you do ever suffer a stomach upset or other infection after swimming, it could be this parasite you might want to blame for it.
The other trouble-causing parasite on the list of problematic pool bugs is Giardia. According to Science.org.au, someone who is infected by Cryptosporidium can shed millions of germs when they go to the toilet – up to 100 million in one go. It’s a hardy and determined germ too, because just 10 of those germs need to transfer to another person to make them sick as well. More concerning still is that fact that Cryptosporidium can happily survive an encounter with chlorine, the chemical of choice for most pool managers when it comes to sanitisers.
While chlorine is an essential part of swimming pool maintenance and treatment, it takes different amounts of time to kill various germs in the pool. E. coli is done for in less than one minute, but our hardy Cryptosporidium can survive for up to 10 days. This shows how crucial it is to keep up with regular treatment – and for us all to take steps to help keep pools clean and healthy for everyone. Even a quick shower prior to entering a pool can help.
How can we minimise the chances of falling ill after a swimming session?
There are a number of simple things we can do to limit the chances of becoming ill if we’ve been swimming. Aside from showering before and after we go for a swim, you can see that it makes sense to prevent as much water as possible going in your mouth when swimming. Sometimes you can’t prevent it, but closing your mouth will help.
Once you are out of the pool, take a shower and clean your ears and body as best you can. Dry your ears as well, as this can help get rid of any pool water that could lead to an infection.
You can also do a visual check of the pool before you get in. There should be a drain fitted to the floor of the pool that should be visible and free from dirt, debris and blockages. Clear water is another requirement – if it looks murky you’re probably looking at an overgrowth of bacteria in the water which isn’t good.
Another quick test is to run your hand over the tiles around the pool. Everything should be clean and smooth rather than gunky or slimy. You can bet a lack of appropriate chlorine treatment is behind an overgrowth of any slime or bacteria, and that is not a pool you’ll want to use.
You can also purchase simple test strips to see how safe the water is before you get in. Of course, if you’re already at the pool, you’re ready to swim, but this quick check can prevent you from experiencing a nasty stomach upset or infection.
Can you smell chlorine?
Most pools have this familiar smell, yet it shouldn’t be too overpowering. If it is, you can bet it’s because the chlorine has plenty of contaminants to work on, and that’s not an encouraging sign. A strong smell of chlorine is not actually the disinfectant itself – it comes from chloramines, which are produced when the chlorine is doing its job. So, pick a pool where this smell isn’t overpowering, as you’ll know it is probably cleaner.
Doing your bit to keep pool water clean and safe
The bottom line is that we can all do our bit to help keep swimming pools as clean as possible. While we won’t take a role in the maintenance or treatment of the pool itself, we will be able to ensure we are as clean as possible when entering the water. By knowing what to do when we get out, we can also reduce the chances of experiencing one of the many swimming-related illnesses or infections.
Don’t let this deter you from enjoying some swimming this summer. If you stick to a well-maintained pool, you should be fine, especially if you do your bit as mentioned above, too.
Expert pool water testing solutions
Water Treatment Services offer a comprehensive range of water quality testing and laboratory analysis solutions to support owners and operators of swimming pools, spas and hot tubs. Our experts can provide advice and support to help you identify the most appropriate strategies for the on-going management of your pool facilities to keep them safe and in tip-top condition.
With offices in London serving the South and South East England, Manchester (North West), Birmingham (Midlands), Bristol (South East England and Wales), Leeds (North and North East) and Glasgow (Scotland), supported by regional teams of specially trained technicians, in-field specialists and consultants we can offer professional, cost effective water management and laboratory analysis solutions across the whole of the UK and internationally.
Contact us today to learn how our expert water management solutions can help keep your pool waters clean and safe to use.