Swimming Pool Safety and Hygiene (by Dr P Weissen MB ChB, MRCGP)
With so many people travelling overseas and to hot climates for holidays these days, there is increasing awareness of risks for example the dangers of sunburn and UV exposure as well as tropical and infections from contaminated foods and drinking water. We also however need to be aware of swimming pool safety (at home and abroad and in waterparks), not just the risks of drowning, but also the need for testing and maintaining good, clean swimming pool water at all times and adopting sensible health and hygienic precautions before swimming to prevent spread of disease. Safe swimming is the key and will allow the benefits of exercise and fun to be enjoyed by everyone.
RWIs (Recreational Water Illnesses) are illnesses spread by swallowing, breathing, or having contact with contaminated water from swimming pools, spas, lakes, rivers, or oceans. Recreational water illnesses can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurological and wound infections. The most common RWI is diarrhoea. This can be caused by germs such as Crypto, short for Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, norovirus and E. coli O157:H7. It is important to remember that some of these bacteria and viruses can live in water for several days and chlorine does not work immediately. So, if someone swallows water that has been contaminated with faeces, he/she may become sick. Many of these diarrhoea-causing germs do not have to be swallowed in large amounts to cause illness. Non- diarrhoeal illness including fungal infections e.g. skin, can also spread via water so be aware of risks to others!
While owners of swimming pools have a duty to ensure that the pool water is correctly tested and treated with disinfectants at the recommended safe levels, swimmers and parents of children swimming also have a responsibility to ensure that if someone is showing signs of infection, especially diarrhoea, that they do not swim. If diagnosed with gastroenteritis, refraining from entering the pool for up to 1 week is recommended.
A few health tips for safe swimming:
- Please don’t swim when you have diarrhoea. You can spread germs in the water and make other people sick. If unwell with fever or if nausea or vomiting, please do not swim
- Please don’t swallow the pool water. Avoid getting water in your mouth
- Please practice good hygiene. Shower with soap before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing nappies. Germs on your body end up in the water.
Tips for parents of small children
- Please take your kids on bathroom breaks or check nappies often as they can leak and contaminate the water!
- Please change nappies in a bathroom or changing area and not at the poolside. Germs can spread in and around the pool
- Please wash your child thoroughly (especially the rear end) with soap and water before swimming. Invisible amounts of faecal matter can end up in the pool.
Final general safety advice
- Keep an eye on children at all times, kids can drown in seconds and in silence
- Protect against sunburn by using a sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and both UVA and UVB protection, and be sure to re-apply it after swimming
Contained within this website are various articles and references that may help you understand better the complex nature and hazards of swimming pool water. The articles such as tips for swimmers and the news and blog areas may also help you to enjoy your recreation time to the full.