For some parents, the smell of a public swimming pool conjures dark thoughts of deep water, overworked lifeguards, boisterous older children, and worse. Such thoughts, however paranoid they may seem, are not necessarily unwarranted—in a swarming mass of humanity like a public pool in the summertime, it isn’t hard to lose track of a small child…or a larger one: for children between 5 and 14, swimming pools are the site of 45% of drowning deaths. On some level, it only makes sense to load up your kids with water wings, pool noodles, and neon-colored flotation jackets before releasing them into the water. However, drowning hazards are far from the only thing you should worry about on an outing to the public pool.
The “chlorine smell” is the first hint that something is awry: a clean pool should be odorless. What people typically refer to as a “chlorine smell” is actually the scent of chloramines, which bear the unsavory definition of “a substance that results from a mix of chlorine and bacteria, urine and sweat.” The penultimate item on the list is not a joke—a 2012 survey found that 1 in 5 people not only relieve themselves in public pools, but are willing to admit it to the Water Quality and Health Council. Seven in 10 people forego showering before they enter the pool, preferring to share their beauty products, sunscreen, and other irritants with the world. These products contribute to the chloramine smell.
Of course, the prospect of drowning should never be ignored; but tiny, one-celled organisms are a less remote possibility. To learn more than you want to know about the germs lurking in public pools, read on:
Cryptosporidium is a parasite that generally infects the body with its signature cryptosporidiosis via ingestion. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, fever, etc. and do not manifest themselves until 2-7 days until after the person has been infected.
The Giardia parasite is grotesque enough without its origin story (an origin story that 1 in 5 openly contribute to, let’s just say). Giardiasis can infect people who swallow even a small amount of pool water, leaving them with diarrhea (a common symptom of waterborne illnesses), headaches, dehydration, etc. One week or even two may transpire before the symptoms of giardiasis are apparent.
Non-polio enteroviruses are the second most common virus, after the common cold, causing 10-15 million infections that show symptoms each year in the U.S. These viruses are found in the mucous, saliva, and fecal matter of their hosts (another, altruistically-motivated reason not to open one’s mouth in pool water). Even touching “contaminated surfaces” may cause infection. A person with an enterovirus may develop cold-like symptoms, feverish aches, or extreme symptoms like encephalitis or paralysis.
Legionellosis or Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia that leads to the hospitalization of 8,000-18,000 people each year in the United States, sometimes because they swallowed pool water. Legionellosis can be fatal, but is usually treatable by antibiotics. Since this bacterium prefers warmer water, it is common in hot tubs.
The symptoms of shigellosis typically appear a day or two after infection in the form of diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever. Children younger than 2 years old may suffer from seizure upon infection. The bacterium may gain entry via ingestion or contact with the bodily secretions of infected individuals.
The public pool can be a minefield of health hazards if you don’t know what you’re reckoning with. In all cases, child supervision is recommended as the single best way to prevent harm in all its forms. However, when reasonable care does not result in reasonable good health, it sometimes indicates that someone has shirked their own responsibility. For those whose health has been seriously compromised by a careless action or omission, a personal injury attorney can direct them through the process of settling or going to court. To contact the best personal injury attorneys in the Salt Lake City area, call Christensen & Hymas toll-free at (801) 506-0800.
Image courtesy of Plate Tektonics