Editor's Picks, Science, Now + Beyond

Here’s how to avoid getting sick from a public swimming pool

After all, what's a faster way to ruin a vacation than to get sick, right? 

Some of the most popular summertime activities are swimming in the pool and taking a dip in a nice hot tub. You probably have spent countless amounts of time in the local pool, and so have I. I always looked forward to going swimming (I love it) and still enjoy going to the pool whenever I get the chance to.

However, as much fun as swimming can be, dangerous bacteria in the water of pools and hot tubs can make you sick, and so it’s important to know about the risks in your water and how to protect yourself this summer.

There are actually a lot of different parasites and bacteria that thrive in swimming pools and can cause people to become ill after swimming. One the most commonly found in swimming pools is called cryptosporidium (or crypto) and that parasite has been responsible for hundreds of illnesses over the past decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

[Image Description: A woman and man swimming in a pool, via giphy.com]
[Image Description: A woman and man swimming in a pool, via giphy.com]
Crypto is caused when someone (and like 99% of the time, thankfully, a child) poops in the pool, and someone else swallows (again, usually accidentally) the water that contains the crypto parasite. Once crypto gets inside the body, it can cause serious gastrointestinal issues including nausea, vomiting and severe stomach cramps and can even lead to dehydration, and symptoms can last for up to three weeks. Thankfully, crypto isn’t very deadly, but it can certainly be uncomfortable to contract.

There is another bacteria that can be found in hot tubs, however, which does have the potential to be far more dangerous: legionella, which causes Legionnaires Disease. Legionella bacteria grow due to the hot temperatures combined with water pressure from the hot tub jets, and people can be infected when they inhale the mist or steam from the tub. Legionnaires disease is a serious respiratory illness similar to pneumonia and was responsible for a majority of the deaths attributed to bacteria in pool and hot tub waters.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to protect yourself from getting sick while you’re enjoying your summer vacations.

First, to prevent getting sick from cryptosporidium bacteria, it is important to make sure that you’re not swallowing any pool water. Even swallowing a tiny amount of contaminated pool water can infect you, as the water will contain a high concentration of bacteria; and unfortunately, the parasite can survive even in treated waters, so it can infect people for days after being exposed to the pool water.

To avoid risking infection,  Michele Hlavsa of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s’ Healthy Swimming Program says, “The advice is pretty standard…Once in the water, do not drink the water you swim in.”

Secondly, to avoid getting any type of infection from a pool or hot tub experience, it’s important to check out the ratings from inspections. Just like restaurants, pools and hot tubs are inspected to determine their health and safety, and the ratings are posted online and sometimes on-site as well.

It’s especially important to make sure that the inspection rating is current, and that nothing has changed about the quality of the water since the last inspection date. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly two out of every 10 inspections contained improper levels of disinfectant and pH levels, allowing for bacteria to thrive in them. If you’re more comfortable doing your own water inspection (I would be too), test strips can be purchased at home supply stores that check the water for proper pH and chlorine disinfectant levels.

Honestly, it’s no surprise that public water supplies might not be the cleanest of locations, but it’s actually been pretty swept under the rug just how many people have gotten sick from going swimming in the past few years. So next time you’re going out to take a dip, make sure you’re taking all the proper precautions.

After all, what’s a faster way to ruin a vacation than to get sick, right?