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What the CDC Wants You to Know Before You Get In That Pool This Summer

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Just in time for summer, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report found that 1 out of 8 pools inspected were unsafe for swimmers.

The report entitled“Violations Identified from Routine Swimming Pool Inspections – Selected States and Counties, United States, 2008,” is in this week′s issue of CDC′s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

Researchers studied 2008 data from 121,020 routine pool inspections across 13 states. After consideration of reporting variances, of 111,487 inspections, they found 13,532 (12.1 percent) identified serious violations that threatened the public′s health and resulted in immediate pool closure. Types of violations included problems with circulation and filtration, disinfectant levels, pH level, use of unapproved water test kit, improperly maintained pool log, failure to have or post a valid pool license, and failure to provide or post operator training documentation.

17.2% of those immediately closed were childcare facility pools, 15.3% hotel/motel pools and 12.4 % apartment/condo pools.

“Pool inspections are vital to helping state and local government pool programs keep swimmers healthy and safe, but pool inspectors can′t be at every pool every day. It′s important for people to play an active role in protecting their own health when they swim,” said Michele Hlavsa, chief of the Healthy Swimming Program at CDC. “By working together, we can decrease the risk of illness and make sure swimming is not only fun, but healthy too.”

Maintaining water chemistry, water circulation and filtration is important because improper disinfectant or pH levels or lack of circulation and filtration can result in transmission of pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses or parasites, which can cause an outbreak of recreational water illness (RWI).

Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are caused by germs spread by swallowing, breathing in mists or aerosols of, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, hot tubs, water parks, water play areas, interactive fountains, lakes, rivers or oceans. RWIs can be a wide variety infections, including gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and wound infections. The most frequently reported type of RWI outbreak is gastroenteritis.

To help ensure healthy swimming each time, CDC encourages swimmers to take action by following the Triple A′s of Healthy Swimming: Awareness, Action and Advocacy.

  • Action
    • Follow the Six Steps for Healthy Swimming:
      • Don′t swim when you have diarrhea.
      • Don′t swallow pool water.
      • Practice good hygiene. Shower with soap before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Germs on your body end up in the water.
      • Take your kids on bathroom breaks or check diapers often.
      • Change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area and not at poolside.
      • Wash your children thoroughly (especially the rear end) with soap and water before they go swimming.
    • Check pool water quality yourself using test strips purchased at a local store.
    • Ask the pool operator about chlorine and pH levels and the latest pool inspection score. The pH is probably the most important factor in swimming pool water and should be tested and adjusted on a weekly basis. Measuring the pH level is a way to assess the relative acidity or alkalinity of the pool water. pH is measured on a scale of 1 to 14 where 1 is extremely acidic and 14 is extremely alkaline. A pH reading of 7.0 is neutral – below 7.0 is acidic – above 7.0 is alkaline.
  • Advocacy
    • Encourage pool operators to take steps shown to kill the germs that cause (RWIs)
    • Educate other swimmers about RWIs to promote healthy swimming.