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Limit health risk at public swim areas
By Carrie Reeves
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Swimming provides a great way to relax and have fun during the summer, but swimmers should be aware of pool-related infections and ways to prevent the spread of these in public pools.
The most serious germs which might be found in swimming pools are cryptosporidiosis, also known as crypto; giardiasis; and Escherichia Coli 057:H7, also know as E-Coli 057:H7. All of these infections are passed through feces.
According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 32 nationwide outbreaks an estimated 2,128 people contracted a pool-related infection in 1997 to 1998. Crypto caused 18 of these outbreaks.
"No activity is risk-free, and using public swimming pools is no exception," said Linda Patterson, health education specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. "But swimming is a healthy, enjoyable activity despite the limited risk of infection."
The CDC recommends several tips for preventing the spread of disease in pools. One of the major ways that infections spread is through the diapers of baby swimmers. Diapers are not leak proof, especially in water, and fecal matter may find its way into the swimming pool, increasing the risk of infection in that area.
"Ideally, a parent should choose a diaper that is specifically meant for swimming with snug closures at the waist and leg openings. Closely monitor the diaper while swimming," Patterson said.
Another way swimmers can prevent the spread of infection in the pool is to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the toilet or changing diapers. Do not change diapers near the pool.
"Maintain proper hygiene near the pool area," Patterson said. "Take children to the bathroom often to prevent accidents which could spread germs into pool water."
Although germs may leak into the water of swimming pools, public pool water is treated using chemicals which contain germ-killing agents. Chemically treated water kills most germs on contact. A few germs can survive in treated water for a limited time. Even if proper levels of chemicals are maintained, it may take from several hours up to three days to kill all the germs.
Although risk is minimal, a swimmer can get infected during this time period. According to the CDC, however, proper chemical treatment of swimming pool water provides the best protection from disease.
Patterson suggested other ways to be safe and stay free of infection in public pools.
"Strongly caution children not to drink pool water," Patterson said. "Drinking public pool water is the most likely way to contract an infection. Enjoy swimming but practice prevention while you exercise and have fun."