With swimming pool season upon us, take precautions to fight germs and drowning

Posted 27 May 2014 at 12:00 am

By Nola Goodrich-Kresse, Public Health Educator for the Orleans County Health Department

Memorial Day is also the unofficial start of summer with many swimming pools opening for the season. Although swimming is a physical activity that offers many health benefits, pools and other recreational water venues are also a place where germs can be spread and injuries can happen.

Recreational Water Illnesses, also known as RWIs, are caused by germs spreading by swallowing, breathing in, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, hot tubs/spas, lakes, rivers, or oceans.

Contrary to popular belief, chlorine and other disinfectants do not kill germs instantly. While most germs are killed within minutes, Cryptosporidium (also known as Crypto) can live for days. Before they are killed, these germs can cause RWIs, such as gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections. The most commonly reported RWI is diarrhea caused by germs such as Crypto, Giardia, Shigella, norovirus and E. coli. Swallowing just a mouthful of water that contains these germs can make you sick.

Ways to prevent RWIs include not swallowing the water you swim in, keeping poop (feces), pee (urine) and germs out of the water, checking (or knowing) the free chlorine level (1 -3 mg/L or parts per million) and pH (7.2 – 7.8) before getting into the water, and taking children on bathroom breaks or checking swim diapers every 30 – 60 minutes. Make sure you change your children’s diapers in the bathrooms or away from the water.

As it is important to take precautionary measures to protect yourself against RWIs, also taking the same measures to prevent other injuries while swimming, such as those chemically related, drowning and sunburn are important too!

Chemicals are needed in order to maintain good water quality in a pool but are also responsible for thousands of emergency room visits each year.


Secure pool chemicals away from children and animals.

Keep all pool chemicals in original containers.

Read product label and manufacturer’s directions for each use.

Use appropriate protective gear, such as safety glasses and gloves, when handling pool chemicals.


Mix chlorine products with each other, with acid, or with any other substance.

It is a sad reality that every day 10 people die from drowning, and that 2 out of those 10 are children under 15 years old.  Following these steps can help save lives

Staying close, being alert and watching children in and around the pool:

Never leave a child unattended in a pool or spa and always watch your child when he or she is in or near water, it only takes a second to slip under the water.

When using a public pool, always keep alert for your children, do not depend on the lifeguards as they have a lot of people to look after.

Teach children basic water safety tips.

Keep children away from pool drains, pipes and other openings to avoid entrapments.

Have a telephone close by when you or your family are using a pool or hot tub/spa.

If a child is missing, look for him or her in the water first.

Share safety instructions with family, friends and neighbors.

Learning and practicing water safety skills:

Learn how to swim and teach your child how to swim.

Learn to perform CPR on children and adults, and update those skills regularly.

Understand the basics of life-saving so that you can assist in a pool emergency.

Having appropriate equipment for your pool or spa:

Install a four-foot or taller fence around the pool and spa and use self-closing and self-latching gates.

Install and use a lockable safety cover on your hot tub/spa.

If your house serves as a fourth side of a fence around a pool, install door alarms and always use them. For additional protection, install window guards on windows facing pools or spas.

Install pool and gate alarms to alert you when children go near the water.

Make sure any pool and spa you use has compliant drain covers, ask your pool service provider if you do not know.

Maintain pool and hot tub/spa covers in good working order.  Never walk on pool or spa covers.

Consider using a surface wave or underwater alarm.

While enjoying the water, don’t forget to protect your skin too!  There is no such thing as a “healthy” tan.

Stay in the shade, especially during midday hours:

Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs.

Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade your face, head, ears, and neck.

Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block both UVA and UVB rays.

Use sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) 15 or higher, and both UVA and UVB protection.  Slather it on and refresh it after a couple of hours, after swimming or sweating.