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In a Heartbeat

How to avoid illness while swimming in summer

| Wednesday, June 21, 2017, 12:27 p.m.

Summertime, sun, swimming and ... bacteria? How easy is it to get sick from swimming with others? How can people avoid illness? We asked Dr. Mohamed Yassin, director of infection control at UPMC Mercy, for answers.

What kind of bacteria should we worry about in the pool?

Cryptosporidium is the most important one as it is resistant to chlorination. Also of concern is giardia, norovirus and E. coli, though these are more likely to be killed by chlorine. All are most commonly linked to diarrheal illness and gastrointestinal problems.

How do we avoid getting sick from swimming?

There are many precautions we can take. To protect yourself, don't swallow the water and get out of the pool immediately if it becomes contaminated with bodily fluids such as vomit or feces. To help protect others, shower before getting in the water to avoid spreading illness and avoid getting into the pool if you are experiencing gastrointestinal upset. Parents and caregivers can help by not allowing children to have dirty diapers poolside – check diapers every 30 to 60 minutes in the bathroom or somewhere away from the pool. And encourage younger children to take frequent bathroom breaks and not urinate in the pool.

Does chlorine do the job?

Not 100 percent, but it is probably the best available option. Even with chlorine, we have to abide by good hygiene to avoid illness. The managers of pools and water parks should test the water and the disinfection system regularly. They should also enforce good hygiene and react immediately to any contamination by closing the pool, removing fecal material and applying additional disinfection. With a combination of both adequate maintenance of the pool and enforcing hygienic practice, recreational water illness is avoidable.

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