Make a splash for public health this summer

07/01/04

New campaign encourages you to ask, 'Am I swimming in a healthy pool?'

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 1, 2004 -- For many Americans, summertime fun begins and ends in the nearest swimming pools. According to U.S. Census data, swimming ranks as the second most popular exercise activity in the country. Whether in the backyard, local recreation center, neighborhood swim club or vacation hotel, it's a healthy pursuit that deserves an equally healthy environment in which to swim.

Sometimes, however, swimmers are not taking their afternoon dip in properly treated water, and the result can make for some very unhealthy times. A national partnership of public health, water quality and consumer advocacy organizations would like to see that change. According to their new initiative, the solution involves us all.The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Consumers League (NCL), the Water Quality and Health Council (WQHC), the Chlorine Chemistry Council (CCC) and the National Spa & Pool Institute (NSPI) have joined together to alert and educate the public on the need to stay personally involved in monitoring and maintaining healthy pools this summer. Through the Healthy Pools campaign, the partnership aims to correct general misconceptions about the public health needs of swimming pools, offering tips on how to recognize risky swimming facilities and how to promote cleaner, healthier pools. What's at stake, according to noted Michigan State University microbiologist Dr. Joan Rose, is your personal health and the health of your family.

"Improperly treated public swimming pools can be the source of a variety of infections and illnesses associated with waterborne germs such as Giardia, E-coli, Shigella and Cryptosporidium," said Rose. An avid swimmer, Rose comments, "While swimming is one of the healthiest activities you can do, exposure to these germs can present uncomfortable results including diarrhea, respiratory illness, ear or nose infections and skin outbreaks." According to CDC epidemiologist Dr. Michael Beach, the most recent news on swimming pool health has not been reassuring. Dr. Beach cites the most recent CDC research showing that 54 percent of all swimming pools monitored in the study were found to be in violation of at least one public health code. Eight percent of those inspections resulted in immediate pool closures. "It's really a case of basic public health practices relaxing to the point of becoming a problem. We've observed that over the past two decades the number of reported outbreaks of diarrheal illness associated with swimming increased ten-fold," reports Beach. "This sends a strong message that we need to do a better job of maintaining the nation's pools."

As promoted on the partnership Website, www.healthypools.org, the positive message is that much of the illness associated with swimming pools is completely preventable. Proper chlorination to kill waterborne germs, good sanitation practices, and suitable personal hygiene in and around the swimming area can make the difference between a healthy and unhealthy swimming experience. The Healthy Pools website offers a simple rule of thumb that NCL president Linda Golodner says makes it easy for consumers to check if they are swimming in a healthy pool. "Our 'Sense'-able Swimming guide encourages children and adults alike to use their senses - sight, touch, smell, sound, and common sense, too - to help protect themselves and each other from swimming pool-related illness."Recognizing that there can be health issues associated with swimming pools, though, remains a challenge to making improvements. Golodner points to a recent NCL public survey demonstrating that nearly sixty percent of those polled believe it is unlikely that someone could get sick from swimming in a swimming pool. "First and foremost, as consumers, we need to be aware that a problem can exist," she says. "Then we need to exercise our good judgment, ask questions and expect answers from those who can improve the quality of those facilities that don't measure up." "A healthy pool is not a luxury; it's a necessity," says Golodner. We all share in the responsibility of supporting good public health habits.

The Healthy Pools partnership encourages swimmers to follow the CDC's guidelines for staying healthy and active this summer:

  • Don't swallow pool water
  • Practice good hygiene
  • Stay out of the pool if you have diarrhea.

According to Dr. Beach, we all win when we work together, "It's crucial that public health professionals, pool operators and the general swimming public work in partnership to increase everyone's chances for healthy swimming experiences."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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