Common swimming pool illnesses and how to protect yourself 

Swimming pools are a fun and refreshing way to cool off, especially during hot weather. However, if they’re not maintained properly, they can also be breeding grounds for some types of illnesses. Here are some common swimming pool illnesses and how to protect yourself: 

Common illnesses found in swimming pools

1. Recreational water illnesses (RWIs)

RWIs are caused by germs spread by swallowing, breathing in mists, or having contact with contaminated water. The most common RWIs include:

  • Cryptosporidium (Crypto): This parasite is highly resistant to chlorine and can cause severe gastrointestinal illness.
  • Giardia: Another parasite that causes diarrhoea, spread through swallowing contaminated water.
  • E. coli: A bacterium that can cause severe stomach cramps, diarrhoea, and vomiting, often originating from faecal contamination.

2. Skin infections

  • Hot tub rash (Pseudomonas Dermatitis): Caused by the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa, this infection results in itchy, red bumps and can occur when swimming in poorly maintained hot tubs or pools.
  • Athlete’s foot: A fungal infection that can be contracted from walking barefoot around pools or in locker rooms.

3. Respiratory infections

  • Legionnaires’ disease: A severe form of pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria, which can thrive in warm water and be inhaled in water mist.

4. Ear infections

  • Swimmer’s ear (Otitis Externa): An outer ear infection caused by water remaining in the ear canal, providing a moist environment for bacteria to grow.

How to protect yourself

1. Practice good hygiene

  • Shower before swimming: Rinse off any dirt, sweat, and personal care products to reduce contaminants in the water.
  • Don’t swim when sick: Avoid swimming if you have diarrhoea or other contagious illnesses to prevent spreading germs.

2. Avoid swallowing pool water

  • Keep water out of your mouth: Teach children to avoid swallowing pool water and to keep their mouths closed while swimming.

3. Check Pool Maintenance

  • Inspect pool cleanliness: Look for clear water, clean tiles, and a well-maintained filtration system.
  • Test chlorine and pH levels: Use test strips to ensure proper chlorine and pH levels. Ideal chlorine levels should be between 1-3 ppm, and pH between 7.2-7.8.

4. Wear appropriate footwear

  • Use flip-flops or water shoes: Protect your feet from fungal infections by wearing footwear around the pool and in locker rooms.

5. Keep ears dry

  • Dry ears thoroughly: After swimming, use a towel to dry your ears or tilt your head to let water drain out.
  • Use ear drops: Consider using over-the-counter ear drops designed to evaporate water in the ear canal.

6. Avoid crowded pools

  • Swim during off-peak hours: Reducing the number of swimmers in the pool can lower the risk of contamination and the spread of infections.

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