County of Los Angeles
Department of Public Health
5050 Commerce Drive
Baldwin Park, CA 91706
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Swimming Pool Information :: Swimming and Illness FAQs
I get sick from swimming in a pool?
Millions of people swim each year without getting sick but it is
possible to become ill. Swimming is the equivalent of communal
bathing. When you are in the water you are bathing with everyone
else in the pool. Germs in contaminated water can get into your body
if you accidentally swallow the water. They also can cause infection
in your eyes, ears and nose, as well as in cuts and scrapes. Germs
that get inside your body can make you ill. A pool usually becomes
contaminated with germs after someone has a fecal "accident" in the
pool. These accidents may be in the form of watery diarrhea.
Therefore, they are not as easily noticed as a formed stool.
What are my chances of getting ill?
The exact risk is not known. If a public pool is properly maintained
and chlorinated, the risk is thought to be low. However, over the
past 10 years, over 150 outbreaks have been reported, involving
swimming pools, large waterparks, hot tubs, spas, lakes, and rivers.
We know that many outbreaks go unnoticed because people often do not
consider the pool water as a possible source of illness. It may take
up to several weeks for some germs to cause symptoms of illness. The
longer the time period between swimming and development of illness,
the less likely people are to associate their illness with swimming
activity. As a result, the number of actual outbreaks is probably
greater than those currently reported.
What type of diseases can I catch?
A variety of diarrheal diseases and other infections such as skin,
ear, nose, throat, and respiratory infections have been linked to
swimming. However, diarrhea is one of the most common illnesses
associated with swimming. Diarrhea is spread when disease-causing
germs from human or animal feces get into the water. You can get
diarrhea by accidentally swallowing small amounts of water that
contains these germs.
Is there anyone who should be more concerned with diseases
spread in swimming pools?
Any swimmer who swims in or accidentally swallows fecally contaminated
water can become ill. Most of the illness reported is diarrhea.
Children, women who are pregnant, and people with weakened immune
systems (such as HIV-infected persons, those who have received an
organ transplant or those receiving certain types of chemotherapy)
may be more susceptible to severe disease.
What if I have diarrhea?
Please stay out of the water if you have diarrhea. Otherwise, you
may contaminate the water by spreading tiny amounts of fecal matter
that rinses from your bottom as you move through the water. Although
swimmers with diarrhea do not intend to contaminate the water, this
is how disease is often spread.
Doesn't chlorine kill all the germs?
No. Chlorine does not kill all the germs in the water, but it does a
good job of killing most of the germs. However, a few germs can
survive normal pool, hot tub, and spa levels of chlorine for several
hours to days. Chlorine must be maintained at proper levels to kill
most of the germs.
Can I get sick from using a spa pool?
Yes. Although you can get the same diseases from a spas as you can
from a swimming pool, skin infections are the most common type of
infections spread through hot tubs and spas. The high water
temperature of hot tubs and spas may cause chlorine levels to
dissipate faster. As a result, chlorine in hot tubs and spas needs
to be checked more regularly than in swimming pools.
Can my children get diarrhea from playing and wading in an
interactive water fountain?
Interactive water fountains are fountains with water sprays in areas
accessible to the public where interaction with the water is
encouraged. They are intended to provide individuals with a means to
play in the water and get wet without actually swimming. Several
diarrheal disease outbreaks have been associated with interactive
water fountains. Again, anyone who accidentally swallows fecally contaminated
water can become ill. When people, especially diaper-aged children,
play in or soak themselves with the water jets, they can contaminate
the water. This may spread germs that can make people sick.
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