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Is there a summer activity more fun than taking your kids to the pool in order to exhaust them to the point they'll fall asleep at 7 p.m. for 12 beautiful hours? Of course not. Just remember that if you do share a pool, it's a good idea to know what might be alive in it besides your children.
Recreational Water Illnesses (RWIs), which are caused by contact with germ-infested water, have jumped more than 200 percent in the past two decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. RWIs include gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections. Of these, diarrhea poses the greatest risk. A study in 2010 found that 1 in 8 public pool inspections resulted in immediate closure because of improperly maintained chlorine levels.
What can you do? First, get the facts. Then, stay smart about hygiene. And unfortunately, if you see (or smell) safety precautions being ignored, you might want to think twice about letting your kid swim.
Here are some common misconceptions about pool-related illnesses:
1. Chlorine instantly kills germs
In fact, it can take up to several days for chlorine to fully kill germs in the pool. There are also germs today that are chlorine-tolerant and were not known to cause human disease until recently, warns the CDC. Swallowing even a little water infested with these germs can make your child sick.
2. The strong smell of chemicals in a pool means it's clean
What you're smelling is not chlorine. According to healthypools.org, the smell indicates that unhealthy chloramines have formed in the water. Chloramines are formed when chlorine combines with ammonia and nitrogen, which are released into the water by swimmers through sweat, pee, poop, mucous and spit—all things children are excellent at creating. Chloramines are not as effective as chlorine in sanitizing a pool, and in fact leave less free chlorine available to do its job. A disinfected pool hardly smells at all.
3. It's not that important to shower before getting in the pool
Have you seen this photo floating around the internet?
This is healthy bacteria we carry around on our bodies on a daily basis. A microbiologist stuck her 8-year-old son's hand in a petri dish to show him what normally lives on his skin. Much of this bacteria is good in that it helps us create healthy immune systems. However, bacteria in our sweat and body oils isn't always the healthy type. And whatever is on our skin when we jump into the pool jumps in with us.
4. The water is so sparkly clear, it must be clean
Nope. Germs can live in clear water just as easily as in cloudy water. However, if the water looks cloudy, definitely do not get in. Chloramines in the water can cause itchy eyes and even breathing problems. Some studies have shown that heavily chlorinated water can actually increase the risk of asthma among children. Bacteria and chemicals can both affect water safety without making the pool look dirty.
They may delay diarrhea-causing germs from seeping into the water for a few minutes, but they are not leak-proof. You should also make sure your child is thoroughly washed with soapy water before even putting him in that form-fitting diaper. If your kid already has diarrhea, forget about taking him to the pool. The CDC recommends checking a swim diaper every 30 minutes and changing it far away from the water.