May 19, 2017 11:44 am

A parasite that chlorine can’t kill could be lurking in your pool

Some researchers from the University of Alberta decided to look into how much urine ends up in swimming pools. Su-Ling Goh reports on what they discovered.

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There may be more in your public swimming pool than just water.

A new report is shedding light on a parasite that’s spreading in swimming pools – turns out, there’s been a steady rise in illnesses after people swallow water that’s been contaminated with the diarrhea residue from another swimmer.

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And the report is pointing to some disturbing statistics: one in four adults say they’d swim within an hour of having diarrhea and 52 per cent admit they rarely or never shower before jumping into a pool, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts out of the American federal agency say that “Crypto” – or cryptosporidium – remains a “challenging health concern.”

READ MORE: Here’s what’s really in your pool water, according to a U.S. report

They’re calling on those who are feeling under the weather to stay out of the water. They’re also insisting that there are great public health reasons why you should rinse off before you get into the pool and after you get out.

Showering, even for a minute or two, can remove most of the dirt from your body.

“Crypto is not easily killed by chlorine and can live up to 10 days in well-treated pools. Just a small number of Crypto germs can make someone sick. That’s why it is important to keep Crypto out of the water in the first place,” Michele Hlavsa, a CDC epidemiologist and chief of the agency’s Healthy Swimming Program, said in a statement.

If you’re sick with Crypto, you should stay out of the water for two weeks after recovering from diarrhea. Parasites can stick around in the small intestine for weeks and cause symptoms to reappear even days after recovery.

READ MORE: How much pee is in the pool? New Alberta research measures water ‘sweetness’

This is news to most people. The CDC’s Healthy Pools survey revealed that 72 per cent of adults are unaware that Crypto is a parasite that’s most often spread in water.

But the findings are timely, according to Jason Tetro, a Canadian epidemiologist and author of the bestselling book, The Germ Files.

With temperatures warming up, more Canadians will be flocking to public pools – they’re the perfect catalyst for an outbreak, he warned.

“We’ve been seeing a massive increase in the number of outbreaks and the number of cases so now we have to be concerned because we have to deal with this parasite that’s so hard to kill and is coming primarily from people. So anytime we have a mass amount of people and water, we have the potential for problems,” Tetro told Global News.

READ MORE: 6 steps to kill the germs on your hands

As few as 10 Crypto oocysts are enough to get you sick. If more of this parasite gets into your system, the worse your symptoms will be though.

Sometimes, symptoms don’t crop up until about a week or 10 days but after that, you’ll be grappling with severe diarrhea, Tetro said.

The CDC found that in 2016, there were 32 outbreaks of Crypto tied to swimming pools and water parks. In 2011, there were only 13.

In Ohio alone, about 2,000 people got sick from Crypto last year, according to CNN.

READ MORE: Public bathroom hand dryers ‘splatter’ germs everywhere, research suggests

Anytime you jump into a public swimming pool, you’re taking a chance, Tetro said.

“You’re bringing all sorts of bacteria you’re going to be spreading and this could be potentially disease-causing, but if the water is chlorinated, the bacteria doesn’t survive very well,” Tetro said.

In 2013, the CDC studied public pools and found that feces are “frequently” introduced into the pool water by swimmers.

Fifty-eight per cent of pool filter samples tested positive for E. coli, bacteria that’s normally found in the human gut and feces.

So how do you stay safe? Simple hygiene can go a long way.

CDC recommends that all swimmers take the following steps to prevent infections while swimming:

  • Keep feces and other contaminants out of the water.
    • Do not swim when you have diarrhea.
    • Shower with soap before you start swimming.
      • Take a rinse shower before you get back into the water.
    • Take bathroom breaks every 60 minutes.
    • Wash your hands with soap after using the toilet or changing diapers.
  • Check the chlorine level and pH before getting into the water.
    • Pools: Proper chlorine (1–3 mg/L or parts per million [ppm]) and pH (7.2–7.8) levels maximize germ-killing power.
    • Most superstores, hardware stores, and pool supply stores sell pool test strips.
  • Do not swallow the water you swim in.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

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