Health Risks of Public Swimming Pools

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The Model Aquatic Health Code, produced by the Centers for Disease Control or CDC, the National Swimming Pool Foundation and a host of swimming pool manufacturers and public health representatives established standards for swimming pool maintenance to avoid public health hazards. The recommendations, once approved by the concerned agencies and implemented, will improve the water safety for the nearly 339 million Americans who visit public pools each year.

Legionnaires' Disease

Legionnaires' Disease, also known as Legionellosis, is caused by a bacterium. Water and vapor provide the medium for its easy transmission. The disease took the name of the organization impacted by an outbreak at its 1976 convention in Philadelphia. Legionnaires' Disease, a bacterial lung disease with symptoms similar to pneumonia, is linked to swimming pools and to the moisture created in enclosed public pools, according to the CDC. Transmission occurs through breathing in the bacteria-infected vapors, not by human contact. Treatment of the disease includes antibiotic drugs, although many infected people recover without any treatment. The pool environment must be thoroughly and regularly cleaned to remove the bacteria and risk of infection.

The Cryptosporidiosis Parasite

The CDC reports that cryptosporidiosis, caused by an infection by the "Cryptosporidium" parasite, was at record levels in 2010 due to "the high resistance to chlorine disinfection" and the easy transmission of the parasite. The agency recommends preventive procedures for public swimming and wading pools to avoid widespread outbreaks. Public health education of pool managers, parents, childcare professionals and community health departments is crucial for avoiding the health risks. The prevention program involves educating all of the partners in transmission; alternative disinfection systems, such as use of ozone and ultraviolet light; and proper hand-and-foot washing techniques.

The Influenza Virus

Properly maintained public swimming pools pose little risk for influenza infection, but improperly maintained pools that fail to meet the CDC-recommended free chlorine levels of one to three parts per million offer a moist environment for the influenza virus. While recent health concerns include the swine, or H1N1, influenza virus, all flu viruses are spread in the same manner. Infection occurs via personal contact or by contact with a pool chair or hard surface also touched by a person infected with the flu virus, according to the CDC. Avoid touching the mouth, eyes or nose to minimize the risk of influenza while at the public pool.

Athlete's Foot

Athlete's foot is an infection by fungus, tinea pedis, that creates a fungal growth and additional skin cell growth on the basal, or top-most, layer of the skin. Pieces of discarded skin infected with fungus fall from swimmers' feet, creating an opportunity to infect other pool visitors. The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists reports that athlete's foot is "...highly contagious and can spread to anywhere on your skin." Wearing sandals while walking around the pool deck discourages infection. Drying the skin thoroughly after swimming also discourages athlete's foot growth.