Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Honoring our Fallen Colleague through “Angels of America’s Fallen”

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

This summer, we are happy to report that the organization we advise, the American Chemistry Council, has contributed $5,000 in our name to the “Angels of America’s Fallen” program. “Angels” engages with the children of our country’s fallen military and first responders, offering coaching and instruction in sports, music, arts, and other healthy activities. These programs cannot replace fallen mothers and fathers, but they do provide opportunities for children to cultivate interests in areas to which they might not otherwise be exposed.

Jerod poses with fellow first-responders in 2011

Jerod poses with fellow first-responders in 2011

Our donation to “Angels” will be channeled by the National Swimming Pool Foundation to local Jewish Community Centers that will provide learn-to-swim scholarships to the children of fallen heroes. We are particularly pleased that the 2017 donation was made in honor of our dear, late colleague, Dr. Jerod Loeb.

Remembering Jerod

Our close-knit advisory group has not forgotten our friend, Jerod, who passed away on October 9, 2013, after battling cancer. Jerod was Executive Vice President of Healthcare Quality Evaluation at The Joint Commission in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois. At The Joint Commission, he was a leader in accreditation and certification programs and involved in a variety of initiatives associated with performance measurement and patient safety, including those of the National Quality Forum, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the International Society for Quality in Health Care, and the World Health Organization.

Jerod was also a community first responder who volunteered with the Buffalo Grove, Illinois Fire and Police Departments for about 15 years. He was a graduate of the Buffalo Grove Citizen’s Fire Academy and was a fully trained member of the Buffalo Grove Community Emergency Response Team.  In 2005, Jerod was appointed Commissioner of Fire and Police for the municipality of Buffalo Grove. Jerod’s volunteerism and professional efforts to promote a safer, healthier world continue to inspire us. Knowing Jerod as we did, we are certain that he would be pleased that some very special children will learn to swim this summer, and that they will be safer in and around water for the rest of their lives. This is just one small way in which Jerod’s work continues.

To contribute to Angels of America’s Fallen, please visit their website at https://aoafallen.org/.

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Avoiding Crypto at the Pool this Summer

Friday, May 26th, 2017
Sign on a door to a hotel pool in Santa Barbara, California, April 2017

Sign on a door to a hotel pool in Santa Barbara, California, April 2017

This summer the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and health departments across the country will strive to keep an unwanted parasite out of America’s pools, hot tubs and water parks. The microscopic organism, “Crypto,” short for Cryptosporidium, causes diarrhea and spreads through recreational water via the fecal-to-oral route. Yes, that’s a revolting image, but an awareness of how Crypto spreads can go a long way toward preventing outbreaks that can put a serious dent in your summer fun.

Crypto is not present in every pool, but according to CDC data, the number of US Crypto outbreaks in aquatic venues doubled between 2014 and 2016.

A Challenge for Chlorine

kidpoolAlthough chlorine destroys most disease-causing germs in treated recreational waters within minutes, Crypto presents a unique challenge. The issue is that in its infectious life stage, the parasite is protected from chemical disinfectants by a hard outer shell, known as an “oocyst.” Thanks to that resistant shell, Crypto can survive for days in a properly chlorinated pool.1

Destroying Crypto oocysts with chlorine requires hyperchlorination (also known as superchlorination)—a process in which the chlorine level of water is raised for a sufficient period of time (hours) during which the aquatic facility is closed to patrons. Hyperchlorination procedures can be found in the CDC’s Fecal Incident Response Guide, “What do you do when you find poop in the water?”. Some pool owners choose to hyperchlorinate weekly as a preventive measure. Oocysts also may be controlled by optimizing pool water filtration or by adding secondary treatment in the form of ultraviolet radiation or ozonation.

Four Ways to Outsmart Crypto

  1. Don’t Enter the Water if You Are Sick with Diarrhea: To avoid contaminating aquatic facilities with Crypto, CDC recommends not swimming when you are experiencing diarrhea or for at least two weeks after diarrhea ends, especially if you have been diagnosed with Crypto. Based on our recent Water Quality and Health Council survey, which found that 25 percent of respondents would swim within one hour of having diarrhea, this recommendation needs to “go viral.”
  1. Shower First: Showering is needed to remove swimmer perspiration, oils and cosmetics that deplete chlorine and form irritating byproducts. With regard to Crypto and other illnesses spread via the fecal-to-oral route, however, a soap shower is needed to remove the trace fecal matter (about 0.14 g) on each person’s bottom. Children under the age of five, who have poor hygiene, really need this, but do parents realize it? Our survey found that about half of adult swimmers don’t even rinse themselves off in the shower before swimming.
  1. Avoid Swallowing the Water: This could be difficult, but minimizing the amount of water swallowed helps reduce the risk of ingesting Crypto, developing diarrhea, and further spreading the parasite. Let children know that as cool and sparkling as it may look, pool water, like bath water, is not for drinking. Approximately 60 percent of adults who responded to our survey admitted they swallow water while swimming.
  1. Check and Change Swim Diapers: Swim diapers may not provide the perfect seal around a child’s bottom, but a well-fitted diaper kept securely in place is a helpful hygiene measure. Parents and caregivers can check diapers every hour or so to be sure “full” diapers are not being immersed in the pool, effectively creating a “fecal tea bag.” Change diapers only in designated areas away from the pool. Thorough hand washing after using the bathroom or handling diapers is essential, no matter the venue.

Crypto is now the leading cause of reported recreational water outbreaks. It is our hope that by highlighting the stark facts about this nasty parasite, future outbreaks will be avoided. Summer is too short to miss out on the fun of enjoying recreational water facilities.

 

Chris Wiant, M.P.H, Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Caring for Colorado Foundation. He is also chair of the Water Quality & Health Council and a member of the National Drinking Water Advisory Council.

Ralph Morris, M.D., M.P.H., is a Physician and Preventive Medicine and Public Health official living in Bemidji, MN.

 

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1 A properly chlorinated pool is one in which a minimum of 1 mg/L “free” chlorine is maintained.

 

Out of the Jungle: Yellow Fever on the Rise

Friday, May 5th, 2017
Brown Howler Monkey According to a recent Science Daily report, thousands of brown howler monkeys in a forest in southeastern Brazil have died of yellow fever.

Brown Howler Monkey

According to a recent Science Daily report, thousands of brown howler monkeys in a forest in southeastern Brazil have died of yellow fever.

Yellow fever, a deadly scourge transmitted by mosquitoes that has impacted the course of human history time and time again, is on the rise in Latin America. The first yellow fever death in Brazil in 17 years occurred in January 2017, when a young person who worked in the jungle succumbed to the disease. A recent Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) “Situation summary in the Americas” reported that since the current outbreak began in Brazil in December 2016, there have been over 1,400 confirmed or suspected cases and at least 234 deaths in six states of that country. Suspected and confirmed yellow fever cases have also been reported in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Suriname.

Yellow fever is indigenous to some tropical regions of Central and South America and Africa, and is caused by the yellow fever virus, one of a family of Flaviviruses, which includes West Nile virus, dengue virus and Zika virus. “Flavus” is Latin for “yellow.” Because it is borne by an arthropod (mosquitoes are arthropods), it is also known as an “arbovirus.” Yellow fever is the most severe arbovirus ever to circulate in the Americas, according to a recent commentary in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

Out of the Jungle

The yellow fever virus is transmitted through both a sylvatic (jungle) cycle and an urban cycle. According to the PAHO “Control of Yellow Fever Field Guide,” in the sylvatic cycle, the virus circulates among primates, primarily monkeys, through the bites of several species of mosquitos, and may result in death (see photo above). In the Americas, in the urban cycle, the virus is circulated among humans through the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the same mosquito that transmits Zika virus, chikungunya and dengue fever.

The urban cycle is initiated when a person who was infected with the disease in the jungle enters an urban center in which there is a high density of A. aegypti mosquitoes. If that individual is bitten by the A. aegypti mosquito while the virus is circulating in his or her blood, the disease can be spread to others subsequently bitten by the same mosquito, setting off a chain of transmission. Large outbreaks can result in urban areas where there are high mosquito densities and a high percentage of unvaccinated or otherwise unimmunized people. So far there is no evidence of urban transmission in Brazil.

Yellow Fever Symptoms

Following infection, the virus incubates in the human body for three to six days. Although many people develop no symptoms at all, fever, headache, jaundice, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting and fatigue may develop. Yellow fever is named for the jaundice exhibited by some patients. According to the World Health Organization, a small fraction of people infected with yellow fever develop severe symptoms and of those, approximately half die within seven to ten days.

A Vaccine and Vector Control

Fortunately, a very effective vaccine for yellow fever was developed in 1937 that is in wide use where the disease is endemic. According to the NEJM commentary, the current outbreak in Brazil is precariously centered in areas close to urban centers. Because urban Brazilians are not typically vaccinated against yellow fever, there is a concern that widespread urban transmission could begin, which could lead to “travel” cases in the US, such as we have seen with dengue, chikungunya and Zika viruses. Local US transmission can become a potential issue in regions such as the Gulf Coast states where A. aegypti mosquitoes thrive. In the age of world travel, we are a connected community, and with increasing tourism into jungle areas, the risk of importing yellow fever grows more likely.

As we know from recent experience with Zika virus, controlling the mosquito vector is a significant strategy for avoiding arboviruses. This includes removing outdoor standing water, properly chlorinating backyard swimming pools, maintaining window and door screens, and applying mosquito repellent appropriately (see tips). These are solid precautionary measures we can all take to help avoid any of the potential arboviruses circulating in our midst. Travelers to yellow fever endemic areas should ensure that they are immunized for yellow fever. Recently CDC announced a shortage of yellow fever vaccine, but noted there is a plan for providing safe vaccine at a limited number of clinics until the supply is replenished. For updates on the vaccine’s availability, please consult the CDC Travelers’ Health website. Travelers to areas in which yellow fever is endemic can also consider using bed netting, wearing protective clothing and applying mosquito repellent.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Yellow fever is back (it never really went away), but unlike the devastating outbreaks documented throughout history, we now have proven effective measures to preclude them … if they are utilized.

Fred M. Reiff, P.E., is a retired official from both the U.S. Public Health Service and the Pan American Health Organization, and lives in the Reno, Nevada area.

 

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Go Swimming This Winter!

Friday, January 6th, 2017

Looking for a fun way to stay fit this winter? Consider swimming in an indoor pool. Swimming provides a great workout for the whole body—core (including abdomen), arms, legs, glutes and back, according to WebMD. It helps increase flexibility and strength without taxing the joints, a welcome advantage for people with arthritis. And feeling buoyant in the water can be both relaxing and soothing, reducing mental stress.

Indoor Pool Air Quality

One potential deterrent to indoor pool swimming is the strong chemical odor around some indoor pools. We have addressed the phenomenon popularly known as “too much chlorine in the pool” numerous times, but it bears repeating here: The irritating chemical odor around some pools is not due to chlorine, but to certain substances formed when chlorine disinfectant combines with nitrogen-containing contaminants brought into the pool by swimmers.

To compound matters, inadequate air exchange over the pool contributes to the build-up of irritants in the indoor pool space. If your indoor pool air is irritating, speak to the pool manager about air flow in the room, but consider your own personal “swimmer hygiene” as well.

Why is chlorine added to pool water anyway? Chlorine-based disinfectants are needed to control waterborne germs, helping to keep pool water safe for swimmers. Chlorine’s presence is non-negotiable (it’s even present in “salt” pools), so to minimize irritants forming, swimmer hygiene must be addressed. Many swimmers do not realize how much influence their hygiene has on pool water quality. Swimmers should shower before entering the pool and refrain from “peeing in the pool.” Showering thoroughly with soap removes body oils, perspiration, makeup, lotions and traces of urine and fecal matter from the skin. When chlorine combines with these substances, there is less of it available to destroy the germs in the water that can make swimmers sick. Inadequate pool chlorine levels can lead to swimmer’s diarrhea and swimmer’s ear, for example. And peeing in the pool, no matter how stealthily it can be done, is not cool!

A Family Affair

Swimming can be a family affair. Parents, swimming is an “electronic gadget-free” activity! The pool is a unique environment in which to connect family members across the generations. The buoyancy of pool water is a great equalizer as older swimmers are able to avoid high impact to their aching joints. Older family members can help teach younger ones to swim and then race them across the pool.

Ensuring that each family member can swim is an investment that can pay dividends over a lifetime. In addition to being a life-saving skill, swimming can enhance the quality of life. A variety of outdoor recreational activities in and around the water, including boating, fishing, water-skiing and more, become available and enjoyable for confident swimmers.

So, as counter-intuitive as it may seem to locate your swim suit and goggles and head for the pool when the weather forecast includes ice and snow, consider the benefits and the fun of winter indoor swimming.

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West Nile Virus: A Seasonal Epidemic in North America

Friday, August 21st, 2015


West Nile Virus Activity by State – United States, 2015 (as of August 11, 2015)
Map courtesy of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This summer North America is once again experiencing a “seasonal epidemic” of West Nile virus that is expected to last through the fall.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, the mosquito-borne virus has been reported in 42 US states as of August 11, 2015.  Fortunately, most people who are infected with the virus show no symptoms; about 20 percent of people infected develop mild symptoms (e.g., headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash) after three to 14 days.  Less than one percent of those infected become seriously ill (e.g., high fever, muscle weakness, neck stiffness, stupor, and potentially permanent or fatal neurological disease).  There are no medications to treat West Nile virus, nor vaccines to prevent human infection1Avoiding West Nile virus is primarily a matter of avoiding mosquito bites.

West Nile Virus Transmission

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, the West Nile virus cycles between mosquitoes and birds.  Mosquitoes become infected with the virus by biting infected birds; they then pass the virus to humans and other mammals through mosquito bites.  West Nile virus is believed to have been in the US since about 1999 when it was first detected in New York City, but human infections have been reported in many countries for over 50 years.  According to the World Health Organization website, the virus is found in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and West Asia, in addition to North America.

West Nile virus can kill some host birds when the virus concentrates in their blood.  Sightings of multiple dead birds could be a sign that the virus is circulating in the vicinity.  CDC notes reporting dead birds to county and state health departments may be helpful to West Nile virus monitoring activities.  Additionally, some health departments monitor mosquitoes for the West Nile virus, which may be supplemented by monitoring sentinel chickens and dead birds.  According to the CDC report, “West Nile Virus in the United States:  Guidelines for Surveillance, Prevention, and Control,” “Research and operational experience shows that increases in WNV [West Nile virus] infection rates in mosquito populations can provide an indicator of developing outbreak conditions several weeks in advance of increases in human infections.”  (The report is linked to this CDC website.)

Reducing Your Risk of West Nile Virus is a Three Step Process

  • First, know your inherent risk level. People over 50 years of age have a greater chance of developing serious symptoms of West Nile virus than those younger than 50.
  • Second, know when to expect the “enemy.” Many mosquitoes are most active from dusk to dawn; these are the hours during which special precautions may be warranted, including avoiding being outdoors.
  • Third, take steps to avoid mosquitoes and their bites.
    • When outdoors, use effective insect repellents; those containing DEET,  picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products may provide longer-lasting protectionfollow label directions for use (For more information on insect repellents and their effectiveness, please see http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/insect/.)
    • Wear long sleeves and long pants of tightly woven fabric; tuck pant legs into socks for extra protection
    • Inspect and repair screens on windows and doors
    • Remove standing water in flower pots, buckets, barrels, old tires, untreated kiddie pools and other containers that can serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes
    • Make sure backyard pools are appropriately chlorinated; mosquitoes will not breed in chlorinated water
    • When you are outdoors, air movement around your body (from fans or natural breezes) disrupts mosquito flight and reduces your risk of being bitten.

Your local health department may provide additional information about protecting against mosquito-borne diseases in your area.

What to do if You Think You Have West Nile Virus

According to CDC, mild symptoms of West Nile virus will improve on their own without medical intervention.  Severe West Nile virus symptoms may require hospitalization.  West Nile virus is not spread from casual human contact, such as touching or kissing.  If you have severe symptoms and think you may be infected with the West Nile virus, seek medical attention immediately.

For more information on West Nile virus, please see www.cdc.gov/westnile.

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Chris Wiant, M.P.H., Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Caring for Colorado Foundation. He is also chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.


*WNV human disease cases or presumptive viremic (“viremic” is defined as the presence of a virus in the blood) blood donors. Presumptive viremic blood donors have a positive screening test, which has not necessarily been confirmed

† WNV veterinary disease cases, or infections in mosquitoes, birds, or sentinel animals.

1According to the World Health Organization, vaccines are available for use in horses.

 

Chlorine: The Cause of Irritated Eyes of Swimmers?

Friday, June 13th, 2014

Chlorine:  The Cause of Irritated Eyes of Swimmers?This poolside scenario will repeat itself many times this summer:

  • Child emerges from swimming pool and approaches parent, rubbing his/her eyes.
  • Parent takes one look at red-eyed child and exclaims, “There must be too much chlorine in the pool. Stay out of the water for a while.”
  • Child agrees reluctantly.

The belief that swimmers’ red, irritated eyes are caused by “too much chlorine in the pool” is an urban legend. The irritation is real, but it is more likely linked to poor swimmer hygiene than to high chlorine levels, a fact that surprises many.

Peeing in the Pool Can be Bad for Swimmer Health

Why Add Chlorine to Pools Anyway?

Good pool chemistry plays a key role in maintaining healthy pools for swimmers. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls chlorine and pH “the first defense against germs that can make swimmers sick.” In fact, when trace levels of chlorine are maintained in swimming pool water at the right pH, chlorine is on “guard duty” against a wide range of bacteria and viruses introduced into pools by swimmers that can cause a host of problems besides conjunctivitis, including gastrointestinal upset, swimmer’s ear and irritated skin. You can check for healthy pH and chlorine levels in your pool this summer by ordering a free pool test kit. Place your order at www.healthypools.org.

The red eye myth is linked to another swimming pool fallacy, sometimes espoused by parents of young swimmers. That fallacy is that peeing in the pool is acceptable because “the chlorine takes care of it [it being the urine].” Peeing in the pool is not unusual: one in five American adults admit to “peeing in the pool,” according to our 2009 survey. The truth is that peeing in the pool can be bad for swimmer health because chlorine reacts with urine (and also feces, sweat, body oils and cosmetics, for that matter) to form products that are irritants and potentially worse. While researchers continue to probe the health effects of these substances–known as disinfection byproducts–they all agree that better swimmer hygiene can help prevent their formation.

Four Hygiene Tips for Showing a Little Kindness to Your Fellow Swimmer:

  1. Don’t pee in the pool! Take children on frequent bathroom breaks and make sure they know it is not alright to use the pool as a toilet.
  2. Check swim diapers of young children frequently and change diapers in facility restrooms, not poolside.
  3. Shower before swimming in the pool and help young children shower. Unshowered swimmers and hot tub users unwittingly contribute small amounts dirt, body oils, makeup, sweat and feces to the water, which add up in a crowded pool or spa.
  4. Encourage swim team coaches to permit swimmers to take bathroom breaks as needed.

Chris Wiant, M.P.H., Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Caring for Colorado Foundation. He is also chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.

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Warning: Peeing in the Pool May Be Hazardous to Your Health

Friday, March 28th, 2014

We Don't Swim In Your Toilet So Don't Pee In Our PoolOne in five American adults admit to “peeing in the pool,” according to our 2009 survey. That news elicits a collective “Yuk!” from the public. Now, new research conducted by the China Agricultural University and Purdue University (Lian et. al, 2014) draws a direct connection between swimming pool urination and potential negative health effects for swimmers. The reasons to discourage peeing in the pool are adding up. Are swimmers listening?

The Problems with Peeing in the Pool

Most people correctly associate chlorine with pool chemical disinfection–destroying germs that can cause diarrhea, swimmer’s ear, and various types of skin and wound infections. There is no doubt that disinfectants, such as chlorine- and bromine-based products, UV, and ozone, help keep swimming pool water healthy and safe. Pool chemistry takes on a new level of complexity, however, when we add, of all things, swimmers.

Germs in Pee!

In addition to a chemical argument for not peeing in the pool, there is a biological one. Contrary to popular opinion, urine is not necessarily sterile. In fact, the urine of infected individuals can contain: norovirus; the parasitic worms that cause schistosomiasis; and the bacteria that causes leptospirosis, among other pathogens.

Swimmers introduce an assortment of organic chemicals to the pool, such as the compounds found in urine, perspiration, cosmetics and body oils. Many of these are nitrogen-based. When nitrogen-based organic compounds react with disinfectants, low levels of chemical byproducts are produced. These byproducts are the subject of much study. In some of the latest research, Lian et al. show that nitrogen-based organic compounds react with chlorine to form low levels of cyanogen chloride and trichloramine, compounds of potential health concern.

The researchers surmise that uric acid in pools, most of which originates from swimmer urination (the researchers call it “a voluntary action for most swimmers”), is a precursor to much of the cyanogen chloride present in pools. Cyanogen chloride potentially can affect the central nervous system, heart and lungs. Trichloramine is an irritant. Bottom line: peeing in the pool may be convenient, but it is not healthy.

Campaigns to End Peeing in the Pool

Public health and swimmer organizations are working hard to raise public awareness of the need for good swimmer hygiene. Notably, for the past several years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA Swimming and the National Swimming Pool Foundation, and our Water Quality & Health Council have been encouraging good swimmer hygiene. We think all swimming lessons should include a hygiene component that instructs students to:

  • Use the toilet and shower before swimming
  • Refrain from peeing in the pool
  • Refrain from swimming when you have diarrhea

Teach them young, and they’ll remember.

Chris Wiant, M.P.H., Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Caring for Colorado Foundation. He is also chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.

Swimming Pool and Spa Safety and Maintenance Resources

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Are you a backyard swimming pool owner looking to “bookmark” some online resources on pool and spa safety and maintenance? We searched the Internet and found the following sites that we hope will prove helpful:

  • Pools and Hot Tubs (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website): What would you do if you found a dead animal in your swimming pool? How long does chlorine take to destroy E. coli in the water? How does one care for inflatable and plastic kiddie pools? Need some tips on protecting yourself and your family from recreational water illnesses transmitted in hot tubs? This CDC website has all this and more.
  • Did You Know? A well-chlorinated hot tub has little odor. A strong chemical smell indicates a maintenance problem.
  • Home Pool Essentials (an online training course for $19.95): The National Swimming Pool Foundation teamed up with the American Red Cross to offer this online training course on home pool safety and maintenance. Safety topics covered include preventing drowning, diving injuries, recreational water illnesses and suction entrapment. Maintenance topics include instruction on how a pool works, how to ensure good water quality and how to add chemicals to water. The cost of the course includes a 30-page resource guide.
  • Did You Know? You should always swim with a buddy; do not allow anyone to swim alone. Even at a public pool or a lifeguarded beach, use the buddy system!
  • Pool Safety (Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) website): The CPSC Pool Safely campaign alerts consumers and industry professionals to the numerous water safety steps that can be adopted to significantly reduce child drowning deaths. The website includes information on the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act designed to prevent drain entrapment in public pools and spas.
  • Did You Know? An average of 390 children ages 0-14 drown in pools and spas each year. If a child is missing, look for him or her in the pool first.
  • Ask a Pool Operator (Water Quality & Health Council’s Health Pools website): Have a question on pool care that’s bugging you? Get a personalized response from an experienced pool operator.
  • Did You Know? According to a 2012 survey, although nearly all respondent said they would never re-use someone else’s bath water, almost seven in 10 admit they do not always shower before getting in the pool. Failing to shower before swimming adds contaminants to the pool that can lead to unhealthy swimming conditions.

Olympic Medalist Mom Teams up with CDC to Promote Healthy Swimming

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Olympic champion Amanda Beard is teaching her son proper swimmer hygiene while he learns to swim.
Olympic champion Amanda Beard is teaching her son proper swimmer hygiene while he learns to swim.
(photo from CDC.gov)

Swimming in a properly maintained pool is a healthy and rewarding activity for people of all ages, but very few of us have the perspective of seven-time Olympic medalist swimmer and mom Amanda Beard. Beard recently partnered with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to encourage swimmers to protect themselves and their family and friends while swimming by promoting the Steps of Healthy Swimming:

  • Keep the poop, germs and pee out of the water.
    • Don’t swim when you have diarrhea.
    • Shower with soap before swimming.
    • Take bathroom breaks every 60 minutes.
    • Wash your hands (include vigorous rubbing) after using the toilet or changing diapers.
  • Check the free chlorine level and pH before getting into the water.
    • The free chlorine levels should be between 1-3 parts per million and pH should be between 7.2 and 7.8.
    • This summer the Water Quality & Health Council is offering free pool test kits at www.healthypools.org.
  • Don’t swallow the water you swim in.
  • Take children on bathroom breaks every 60 minutes or check diapers every 30-60 minutes.
    • Change diapers in the bathroom or diaper-changing area and not at poolside where germs can rinse into the water.

Do the Math!

Beard’s strong focus on hygiene comes from the fact that if a swimmer fails to shower before swimming and brings feces into the pool, the pool could be contaminated with germs that cause illness. We know from a recent CDC study that fecal bacteria are present in over half of swimming pools tested. Another study estimated that a person who swims without first showering sheds an average of 0.14 g of fecal matter into the water. (Multiply the number of showerless swimmers by 0.14 g to get an estimate of the amount of fecal matter in your pool. Ugh.) Pathogens from fecal matter can infect swimmers who inadvertently swallow pool water, making them sick. And while chlorine disinfectants kill most waterborne pathogens within seconds, the process is not instantaneous, so there’s a lag time during which infection can potentially occur.

Teach Hygiene as Part of Swimming Lessons

We applaud Amanda Beard for spreading the word about the importance of swimmer hygiene. Beard is giving her three-year-old son swimming lessons and teaching him to do his part to keep the pool water clean. Swimming lessons are a wonderful gift that we can give to children to enjoy and benefit from throughout their lives. The younger they are when they learn to swim, the better. And while they are learning this life-saving skill, we suggest that all organized and informal swimming lessons include a hygiene component to help keep swimming healthy for everyone in the pool.

Remember, showering is not just a courtesy to others, it also helps keep you
and your loved ones healthy!

Is There Good Chemistry in Your Pool?

Friday, June 14th, 2013

Pool with inflatable tubeThis summer many of us will spend some “down time” cooling off in a pool. Whether the pool is in your backyard, your community, or your vacation spot, chemistry is at your service to help ensure that your pool experience is a healthy one. Within seconds of application, chlorine-based pool sanitizers destroy most of the waterborne germs that can cause diarrhea, swimmer’s ear and skin infections in swimmers—maladies that threaten to turn your “down time” into “down and out” time.

For most pools, the fundamental chemistry that protects swimmers from germs is maintained when the pool water pH and the chlorine level are kept within prescribed ranges. Pool operators are obliged to monitor and maintain pH between 7.2 and 7.8 and the “free chlorine1” level between 1 and 3 parts per million. That’s good chemistry for a swimming pool—a chemistry that optimizes waterborne germ destruction while keeping swimmers comfortable.
water by swimmers.

You Be the Pool Inspector!

As pool season begins once again, the Water Quality & Health Council is happy to make free pool test kits available to the public. According to a 2010 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in eight public pool inspections conducted in 13 states resulted in pools being closed immediately due to serious code violations. If that makes you wonder how your pool would fare, consider ordering a free test kit at www.healthypools.org. Each kit includes an easy-to-use test strip to dip into the pool and a color chart to help determine the pool water pH and free chlorine level. The kits can be used at any pool that applies chlorine-based sanitizers, including saltwater pools.

If your pool’s chemistry is “off,” tell your pool operator. If you are not satisfied with his or her response and you don’t think that anything will be done to improve the chemistry of the pool, contact your local public health department.

Have a fantastic summer and remember to pack a trusty pool test kit when you go to the pool. Don’t get in the water unless there’s good chemistry in the pool.

Linda Golodner is President Emeritus of the National Consumers League and Vice Chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.


1 Free chlorine is technically defined as a combination of hypochlorous acid and hypochlorite ion that forms when chlorine-based sanitizers are added to pool water. Free chlorine destroys algae and most waterborne germs. It also reacts with small bits of organic debris and impurities, such as substances added to pool water by swimmers.