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South Health District

Healthy and Safe Swimming Week

Have your eyes ever started to sting and turn red when you were swimming in a pool? Did you think it was because of the chlorine in the water? Have you ever walked into an indoor pool area, gotten a whiff of a strong chemical smell, and thought, “Wow, there’s a lot of chlorine in the pool?” It’s actually not the chlorine. It’s certain types of chloramines, or what you get when chlorine combines with what comes out of (e.g., pee, poop) or washes off of (e.g., sweat and dirt) swimmers’ bodies. These chloramines irritate the eyes and respiratory tract and can event aggravate asthma and cause a strong chemical smell at indoor pools. These chloramines are different from the type of chloramine which is sometimes used to treat our drinking water.

Healthy swimming depends on what we swimmers bring into the pool – and what we keep out of it. We all share the water we swim in, and we each need to do our part to keep ourselves, our families, and our friends healthy.

In addition to being an all-American way to have fun with family and friends, swimming is a good form of physical activity. Just 2.5 hours of water-based (or other forms of) physical activity per week has health benefits across a lifetime. Water-based physical activity can protect the health of pregnant women by helping to regulate body temperature and minimize stress on joints during exercise as well as help prevent or control diabetes brought on by pregnancy. Water-based physical activity also improves women’s bone health after menopause and improves older adults’ ability to carry out everyday activities. The health benefits for children are wide-reaching, as well. Students have shown that children with asthma might have fewer symptoms when swimming regularly compared with other asthmatic children, and that children in general benefit socially from contact with other children at recreational water venues.

Mixing chlorine and urine not only creates certain types of chloramines – it also uses up the chlorine in the pool, which would otherwise kill germs. These germs can get into the water when they wash off of swimmers’ bodies or when infected swimmers have diarrheal incidents in the water. Just one diarrheal incident can release enough germs into the water that swallowing a mouthful can cause diarrhea lasting 2-3 weeks.

Even when the levels of chlorine and other pool water treatments are well maintained, they don’t kill germs instantly. Cryptosporidium (or Crypto), the leading case of disease outbreaks linked to pools, can survive in a properly chlorinated pool for more than 10 days. In 2011-2012 (the last years for which national data are available), >70 outbreaks linked to pools, water playgrounds, and hot tubs/spas were detected in the United States. Half of these outbreaks were caused by Crypto. These statistics remind us that the water we share and swim in is not germ free and why it’s important for each of us to do our part to keep germs, pee, poop, sweat and dirt of the water in the first place.

To help prevent chloramines from forming and to protect your health and the health of your family and friends, here are a few simple and effectives steps all of us can take each time we swim:

  • Stay out of the water if you have diarrhea.
  • Shower before you get in the water.
  • Don’t pee or poop in the water.
  • Don’t swallow the water.

Every hour – everyone out!

  • Take kids on bathroom breaks.
  • Check diapers, and change them in a bathroom or diaper changing area – not poolside – to keep germs away from the pool.
  • Reapply sunscreen.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.

These steps will help you minimize risk of illness and maximize health benefits and pool enjoyment. Healthy swimming is not just about the steps the pool operators and pool inspectors take – so let’s all do our part to help keep ourselves, our families, and our friends healthy this summer and year-round.

Remember….Think Healthy. Swim Healthy. Be Healthy!

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