Health

Know what you might be jumping into

BY DR WENDY-GAYE
THOMAS

Sunday, June 23, 2019

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THE scorching summer heat is here and will not be easing any time soon. With some children already out of school and families converging for the holidays, heading for a dip in cooling water is a top-of-mind priority.

Those of us who can't make it to the beach will no doubt be looking to visit a swimming pool. While a pool may offer relief from the summer heat, swimmers should know what they may be jumping into.

A sky, blue swimming pool can be temping on a sweltering day, but it could be full of nasty germs originating from other swimmers and unsafe water supplies. I have friends who have come back from a day at the pool with ear and skin infections, and diarrhoea.

Viruses, bacteria, and parasites are the culprits in most swimming pool-related sickness outbreaks. The mucus, saliva, blood, and skin of infected swimmers can directly contaminate the water with sufficient pathogens to cause infections in other swimmers.

America's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, from 2000 to 2014, some 500 swimming pool-related disease outbreaks occurred in 46 US states and Puerto Rico, causing 27,219 cases of illness and eight deaths. One third of the outbreaks occurred in hotel pools or hot tubs.

Most of the illnesses were caused by a parasite called cryptosporidium (crypto for short), which is tough enough to survive chlorine for seven days and causes diarrhoea; the bacteria pseudomonas, which causes swimmer's ear and hot tub rash; and legionella, which can cause legionnaires' disease and is the deadliest of the three, linked to at least six of the related deaths. When these parasites enter your body they travel to your small intestine and then burrow into the walls of your intestines, later to be shed in faeces.

Faeces are a particular danger in pools, as the pathogens they contain are typically present in enormous numbers, approaching a million per gram of faeces. A single faecal release in a pool could contaminate millions of gallons of water, according to the University of Arizona's College of Public Health.

If you're unfortunate enough to swallow contaminated water, you may experience a range of symptoms, including diarrhoea, bloating, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Severe diarrhoea poses the danger of dehydration (especially in children or pregnant women). It can be particularly dangerous for people with compromised immune systems, such as individuals undergoing chemotherapy.

Many of these germs are spread via faecal transmission — that is, by people swallowing water that has traces of faeces. There is abundant evidence of the havoc that germs in water can create. For example, in New Mexico in 2008 a competitive swimmer who ignored symptoms of diarrhoea caused 92 swimmers, including other competitive swimmers, coaches, and lifeguards, to be ill. In 2001, in an Illinois water park, 358 people contracted diarrhoea, despite adequate chlorine.

While most of us would swear on the Bible that we don't fall in that category of contaminators, Charles Gerba, professor of microbiology and environmental studies at the University of Arizona, says: “The average bather has about a tenth of a gram of faeces in his gluteal fold”. In other words, the butt was not wiped clean after a bowel motion. Even a tenth of a gram carries more than its fair share of germs.

In most cases, viruses and bacteria in swimming pools are controllable by proper, regular disinfection regimes, including chlorination.

If all this has you swearing never to go in a swimming pool ever again, don't worry. Here are some tips for safety from germs in the pool.

If you are about to enter a pool, do a quick spot check first before you put your foot into the water.

• Water in the pool should not be cloudy.

• Tiles should not be slippery, and you should hear filtration machines humming in the background.

• Don't ever swallow pool water. Children sometimes jokingly spit pool water back into the pool or at their friends but this is dangerous, as some of it may be swallowed.

• Shower with soap and water before and after swimming.

• Wash your hands with soap and water after using a toilet or changing diapers.

• Remove small children from pools for bathroom breaks and check diapers often.

• Wash children, especially their rear ends, thoroughly with soap and water before they enter a pool.

• Don't swim when you have diarrhoea. Diarrhoea can be transmitted in pool water weeks after symptoms cease.

Hotels and guest houses have perhaps the largest number of pools, used by people from different countries and cultures, with varying degrees of personal hygiene. Resorts and properties and those in the hospitality industry should invest in technical assistance to ensure that health risks in this area are kept at bay.

Pool disinfectants can kill most germs in less than an hour, but for others it can take longer. Cryptosporidium, for instance, can survive for up to 10 days in a properly chlorinated pool, and other pathogens are completely resistant to chlorine. In addition, the unique circulation patterns found in pools may allow poor water circulation in some areas, making it unlikely that all pathogen activity can be fully prevented.

The unfortunate truth is that chlorinated swimming pools can and do transmit disease.

At Technological Solutions Limited, we are mindful of the effect which frequent incidences of intestinal disease attacks can have on a property's reputation. The laboratory arm of the company offers resort properties comprehensive technical assistance to ensure the integrity of their water systems — be it swimming pools, cooling systems or other types of environment where germs may have an opportunity to invade water supply.

Dr Wendy-Gaye Thomas is Group Technical Manager, Technological Solutions Limited, a Jamaican food technology technology company, email: wendy.thomas@tsltech.com


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