Got diarrhea? Don't swim!
May. 24, 2023
By Mary Wade Burnside
“Let’s grill out.” “Surf’s up!” “Where are you going on vacation?”
Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer. And while messages such as the ones above may be ringing in many people’s conversations, Monongalia County Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have an important one to add:
“Got diarrhea? Don’t swim!”
It might seem obvious, but as we're in the middle of Healthy and Safe Swimming Week, it’s time to review its central message: Pools and poop don’t mix.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “One person with diarrhea can contaminate the entire pool.” These rules also apply to splash pads. “Swallowing even a small amount of water contaminated with diarrhea germs can make you sick for up to three weeks.”
So in addition to not taking a dip into a pool if you have diarrhea, it’s also incumbent on swimmers who are free of illness to avoid swallowing water at a pool or a splash pad.
Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are caused by germs spread by swallowing, breathing in mists or having contact with contaminated water. Diarrhea is the most common RWI, but others include skin, ear, respiratory, eye and neurologic infections. Children are more likely to get these illnesses than adults.
To keep the poop out of the pool, and to ensure yours and your children’s safety when they swim, here are guidelines recommended by CDC:
• Don’t swim or let your kids swim when sick with diarrhea.
• Don’t swallow the water.
• Check out the pool’s latest inspection report. You can do that by going to this website: monchd.org/departments-programs/environmental-health, and then click on Online Inspection Reports.
• Take kids on bathroom breaks every 60 minutes or more if needed.
• Check diapers every 30–60 minutes and change them in a bathroom or diaper-changing area, not waterside.
• Shower before you get in the water.
• Do a mini-inspection of the pool. Here’s how:
Buy strips to test pH and free chlorine or bromine in the pool. These can be purchased at most superstores, hardware stores and pool supply stores.
CDC recommends pH 7.2–7.8. The free chlorine concentration should be at least 1 ppm in pools and at least 3 ppm in hot tubs/spas. The free bromine concentration should be at least 3 ppm in pools and at least 4 ppm in hot tubs/spas.
Other segments of the mini-inspection including making sure the drain at the bottom of the deep end of the pool is visible; the drain covers at the bottom appear to be secured and in good repair; and that a lifeguard is on duty at the pool, or that it at least has safety equipment such as a rescue ring or pole.
If a pool does not pass, don’t get in the pool, the CDC recommends. Here are other things to look for at the pool.
Complaints can be made through Environmental Health at 304-598-5131 or online.
And rest assured that MCHD Environmental Health’s registered sanitarians also inspect pools. Each pool undergoes a full inspection twice a year. Sanitarians also stop by each pool bi-weekly to check pH and chlorine. If they receive a complaint, sanitarians respond within 10 days.
Other swimming safety tips, in addition to taking lessons, include using sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more, re-applying often. Remember that the sun is harshest from late morning to mid-afternoon. Also, drink plenty of fresh water … even if it means having to get out of the pool to take another bathroom break.