The health benefits of spending time in a swimming pool are quite significant! At the same time, though, there are also some potential health risks. While you’re subject to the same benefits at a public pool, you’re also subject to a much greater degree of risk. And a huge amount of risk comes in the form of Recreational Water Illnesses (RWIs). Caused by a combination of pool chemicals and contaminants that frequently enter pool water, RWIs can cause a variety of illnesses.
Where Do RWIs Come From?
RWIs, like all illnesses, can be caught in various ways; in the case of RWIs, these illnesses are spread through contact with either swimming pool chemicals or contaminated water of any kind. Exposure can occur through swallowing water, but that’s not the only way; it can also happen as a result of breathing evaporated pool water in the area surrounding an indoor pool. Anyone who spends time in natural or manmade water sources can be at risk for RWIs. From hot tubs and water slides to oceans and lakes, any recreational water activity can lead to exposure to RWIs.
Types of RWIs
The CDC reports that the type of RWI that occurs most frequently is diarrhea. This uncomfortable gastrointestinal illness can be caused by an assortment of germs, including Shigella, norovirus, Giardia, E. coli, and Cryptosporidium; of those sources, Cryptosporidium — “Crypto” for short — is the most frequent source.
A type of chlorine-tolerant parasite, Crypto has a protective outer shell that allows it to survive outside a person’s body for multiple days, even when a swimming pool is maintained with proper chemical levels. Exposure to Crypto leads to a prolonged bout of diarrhea. Sufferers report symptoms that last, on average, between 2 and 3 weeks. Along with watery stool, those exposed to Crypto may experience additional symptoms, such as fever, nausea, stomach cramps, and vomiting, as well as the dehydration and weight loss that often accompany those symptoms.
People with healthy immune systems may actually experience no symptoms from Crypto, since only the small intestine is affected; those people typically recover with no intervention. However, for those with weak immune systems, chronic or serious digestive and respiratory system problems may result. The good news is that those with healthy immune systems typically recover from Crypto exposure on their own.
If you go swimming in a natural water source or a manmade, public water recreation area, you don’t have much control over your exposure to these kinds of germs. But if you have your own backyard swimming pool, you can take steps to reduce your likelihood of being exposed, and we will examine those steps in another article.
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