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Labette Health

Swimming in germs: How to stay healthy in the water

July 4, 2024—Summertime fun often involves a dip in the pool or taking the kids to a splash pad. It's a great way to keep cool, stay active and have fun. But it does come with some risks—including waterborne germs.

What's in the water?

You're not alone in the water. Along with other swimmers, several types of pathogens are likely keeping you company, such as:

  • Cryptosporidium (Crypto).
  • E. coli.
  • Giardia.
  • Shigella.
  • Norovirus.

If you swallow the water, you can ingest germs, despite the presence of chlorine or bromine, two chemicals commonly used to disinfect swimming pools.

Some of these germs enter the water through feces (poop) on swimmers' bodies, and can give you diarrhea, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Diarrhea is the most common illness swimmers experience.

Sound gross? It is. You probably don't want to think about someone pooping in the pool, but accidents happen. And, according to the CDC, most of us have tiny amounts of feces on our rear ends that can wash off in water.

Disinfectants kill some germs within a few minutes, but other germs, like Crypto, can survive for a long time. Crypto and E. coli can make you seriously ill.

At splash pads, standing water usually doesn't collect. However, they may not be regulated or required to use disinfectant. Even when they are, it's hard to keep the chemicals at correct levels when water splashes around.

And whether you're in a pool or at a splash pad, when feces, urine, dirt, leaves or other debris is in the water, chlorine or bromine are so busy attacking those contaminants that there's less left over left to kill germs.

How to prevent water-related illness

Steer clear of the water if you have diarrhea. This goes for babies too. Swim diapers don't keep poop out of the water. Stay out of the water if you have cuts, wounds or new piercings. If you do go in, completely cover your wound with waterproof bandages.

Shower before and after. Even a one-minute shower before you enter the pool can wash germs and dirt off your body and help disinfectant work more efficiently. After pool time is done for the day, shower with soap and also wash your swimsuit.

Practice good hygiene. Don't swallow water or pee or poop in the water.

Check your kids often. Take them to the restroom and check their diapers every hour.

Dry your ears afterwards. This can help you avoid swimmer's ear, a common infection.

More pool pro tips

Spending the day at the pool? Water safety goes beyond germs. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Always watch your kids closely and keep younger children within arm's reach.
  • Walk, don't run. Water shoes can help prevent slipping.
  • Take regular breaks in the shade with snacks and clean water.


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