It’s not just Legionella or Pseudomonas bacteria that you have to worry about lurking in your water. Escherichia Coli or E.coli is another bacteria which just loves living in man-made water systems like hot tubs, spas and swimming pools. It will breed rapidly given the right conditions which is why regular water testing is important. Legionella bacteria does best in stored or stagnant water systems where the temperatures are warmer, but E.coli prefers hotter temperatures that are sustained over longer periods.
E.coli in hot tubs, spas and swimming pools
E.coli bacteria is often associated with hot tubs, swimming pools and spas. These are just the sorts of places we relax with a glass of wine on a warm evening, and that’s where the problems start. It’s also not just the home hot tub or Jacuzzi which should be of concern, there is also a risk from poorly maintained public swimming pools and spa resorts both in the UK and overseas.
If hot tubs and pools are properly maintained, then the risks of contracting E.coli or any other nasty bacteria is significantly reduced. However that’s not to say the risk isn’t there, and anyone running a business which provides hot tubs, spas or swimming pools on their premises has to understand the risk factors associated with E.coli, legionella and other infections, and more importantly, how to maintain their water systems so that customers and their staff are not put at risk.
What is E.coli?
Escherichia Coli, or E.coli for short is a type of bacteria which is found in the faeces of many mammals and birds, including human beings. Bacteria from faecal matter can pass into a water system if for example someone doesn’t wash their hands after using the toilet, or if animal faeces get into a pool or hot tub. E.coli can also get into swimming pools or hot tubs on people’s shoes, or if they are outside by being blown in on leaf debris. Once the bacteria gets into the water it starts multiplying under the right conditions, and there is the potential for the next person who uses the spa or pool to become infected. Luckily, an infection with E.coli is usually easily treated once it has been identified, and is fairly easy to eradicate at the source of the infection by thorough cleaning and disinfection of the complete water system. It’s worth remembering that even if a water test identifies the presence of total coliform bacteria in water that doesn’t mean it has been contaminated by faeces – the majority of total coliform bacteria is not dangerous to humans.
What water temperatures does it need to thrive?
One of the environmental conditions which E.coli likes best is a consistently high temperature. It thrives and starts to multiply quickly between 30oC and 40oC (optimum temperature is 37oC), This is approximately human body temperature and typically the temperature at which most of us set our hot tubs and spa pools at the gym and swimming pool. Water in a swimming pool is generally much cooler, with 29oC being the recommended maximum. Cooler swimming pools are therefore generally less of a risk from E.coli than spa baths and hot tubs.
What other bugs are there in pool water?
It’s easy to scaremonger about all the potential nasty bugs which could be breeding in your hot tub. E.coli, legionella, cryptosporidium, mycobacteria enterococci, giardia, pseudomonas aeruginosa… all sounds very scary, doesn’t it? It’s important to remember however that these types of bacteria are around us all of the time, and in normal fit and healthy adults they are unlikely to cause any issues at low concentrations. However, taking measures to get rid of E.coli and these other bugs can stop them from growing and escalating into a problem for bathers.
- Mycobacteria enterococci
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa
What are the symptoms of an E.coli infection?
Symptoms of an E.coli infection usually last from a couple of days to over a week, and if you are unlucky enough to be infected, you can expect some or all of these common symptoms:
Most healthy adults will recover from E.coli quickly. However, in vulnerable groups like pre-school children, pregnant women, the elderly and anyone with a compromised immune system, an E.coli infection can cause kidney failure and in rare cases can even prove fatal.
Why should you test your water for E.coli?
We should be testing for E.coli because it is preventable and becoming infected with it is not pleasant in the slightest, and as we’ve seen, it can be serious. The best approach for anyone managing a swimming pool, spa or other facility as part of a business (including hotels, public pools, gyms, schools and universities) is to take steps to eliminate the bacteria as soon as possible – this can be done by implementing good cleaning and disinfection procedures. If dealing with a home hot tub or swimming pool, it’s up to the home owners to take these steps.
The presence of E.coli in water is nothing new and over the years the water industry has refined methods of testing for the bacteria in water, and also treating it with specialist water treatment chemicals to kill off a range of problematic bacteria. Having a robust system for testing for E.coli in the water should alert you quickly to any changes in water quality and cleanliness, and so allow you to take measures to prevent levels of the bacteria rising to dangerous levels.
Water sampling for E.coli, legionella and other bacteria
Water is tested for E.coli, legionella and other bacteria using water sampling. This involves taking a small amount of water directly from the spa pool, swimming pool, hydrotherapy pool or hot tub. Other bodies of water which are used for recreational purposes such as rivers and lakes can be tested too. Tests should be carried out regularly to ensure that the water is safe to swim in. In most cases, water samples taken on a regular basis will be sent off to a laboratory, and the owner of the pool or hot tub notified if any issues are found.
There are also more generalised home water testing kits which will indicate if bacteria are present in the water, but which aren’t detailed enough to identify the specific types of bacteria and at what concentrations they are present. If you use a specialist water quality testing facility such as that provided by Water Treatment Services, you’ll get a much more detailed breakdown of the types of bacteria in your water and if they exceed safe levels. This will help you identify if your water treatment procedures are working effectively, or if you have a problem that needs attention.
Expert water quality testing and laboratory analysis
Contact Water Treatment Services to find out more about our laboratory water analysis services including microbiological testing, chemical and in-field sampling services.
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 environmental support solutions across the whole of the UK and Ireland.
Contact us today to learn how our expert water testing solutions can help you keep your water safe.
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