CDC 'Poop' Study: Why Swimmers Need to Shower

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on May 21, 2013 10:50 AM

Do you shower before you swim? If not, you're likely contaminating the pool with fecal matter, according to a new CDC study that's making waves.

That's right: Everybody poops, but not everyone cleanses themselves responsibly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that child and adult swimmers alike introduce fecal material into pools without even knowing it, which can spread germs to other people.

During the course of the CDC study, researchers found a variety of bacteria in Atlanta pools they tested last summer.

The CDC's 'Poop in Pools' Study

The researchers found genetic material from E. coli bacteria in 58% of the tested public pools in Atlanta. E. coli bacteria are ordinarily found in the human gut and feces.

In 59% of public pools, they also found bacteria called Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can cause skin rashes and ear infections, according to the CDC report. It can be introduced in a variety of ways, including dirt, kickboards, skin, or fecal matter.

Fecal matter ended up in the pool not just from kids pooping in the pool. It also resulted from kids and adults not showering before getting into the water.

The off-putting nitty-gritty statistic is that the average person has 0.14 grams of fecal matter on their "perianal surface" -- the technical word for one of your more "private" areas. That can contaminate a pool if a person doesn't shower first, according to the CDC report.

The test examined pool filter backwash, which is usually dirtier than pool water. Plus, it only determined if the microbes were in the sample, not if they were infectious, The Atlantic points out. Rest assured, there were no samples that showed E. coli O157:H7, a toxin-producing strain that causes illness. In fact, there were no illnesses reported from swimming pools in Georgia that year.

But the CDC says the presence of these microbes is a problem, and likely a widespread one.

Potential Liability

The CDC report found that E.coli was significantly more likely in municipal pools versus membership and club pools. Still, homeowners associations and landlords could be liable for swimming pool injuries. For the benefit of everyone, they should protect swimmers by closing the pool when a major "accident" happens.

One solution might be upping the amount of chemicals in the pool. However, that could come with its own risks since swimming pool chemicals injure thousands yearly. Unfortunately, "Chlorine and other disinfectants don't kill germs instantly," the chief of the CDC's Healthy Swimming Program said.

Swimmers who have suffered injuries from ingesting contaminated water should consult an attorney to possibly recover medical expenses.

The bottom line: Do things differently this summer. Before the you-know-what hits the fan -- or pool, for that matter -- take precautions. Don't swallow the water you swim in, and avoid swimming when you have diarrhea. Above all, always make sure to shower before taking a dip. For little poopers, the CDC recommends parents take them for a bathroom break once every hour.

Keep it clean, folks. Wipe before you wade.

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