Swimming is one of the most popular recreational summer activities, and millions of people will soon be descending upon community pools and water parks as well as enjoying their own back yard swimming pools. But there have also been an increasing number of gastrointestinal illnesses that can be traced back to swimming pools, spas, hot tubs, and water parks. As water becomes warmer in the summer, adequate chlorine levels become more difficult to maintain. Chlorine eventually destroys most germs that contaminate pools, such as Cryptosporidium, E. Coli, giardia, and shigella, but the germs may linger for hours or days. Outbreaks of diarrhea are the common result, but it may be weeks before the illness is apparent. The germs can also cause skin rashes, eye and ear infections, and respiratory illness.

Follow these guidelines to keep your family well this summer as they enjoy water activities:

Infection most frequently occurs when water is swallowed. Teach your children not to swallow pool water and to avoid getting it into their mouths. Much splashing and horseplay, such as unexpected dunking, result in water being accidentally swallowed, so put limits on these activities.

Avoid community swimming pools that allow children in diapers or swim pants to play in the water. Diapers are notoriously leaky, and swim pants will not necessarily keep diarrhea from getting into the pool water and contaminating it with viruses and bacteria. Well-formed stools are not as great a risk, since most of the germs are contained, but still can contaminate pool water.

If you choose to allow children into your back yard pool wearing swim diapers, take them out for bathroom breaks or check diapers frequently. You know that if you wait till they tell you they have to go, it’s usually too late! Change diapers away from the pool area, (not on the lawn chairs, where germs may remain) and wash their little bottoms, and your own hands, with soap and water before allowing them back into the pool.

Older children and adults with diarrhea also pose a risk of contamination, since fecal matter can be washed off of their bodies by the pool water. It is wise to shower before getting into any pool, spa, or hot tub. At community pools and water parks, you don’t have any control over the cleanliness of the other patrons, but you can avoid contributing to the problem! If you do see fecal matter in the pool, inform the lifeguard. Responsible pool personnel should ask swimmers to leave the pool, check the chlorine levels, and adjust the level immediately if necessary. Staying in the deep end of the pool, chest height or deeper, will offer some protection, since bacteria tend to concentrate in shallow water.

A well-maintained pool will have clean and clear water, and the sides of the pool should not be slippery or sticky. A strong chemical smell indicates a maintenance problem; a chemically-balanced pool does not have an odor. You should be able to hear the pumps and filters running to indicate the maintenance equipment is working properly. Before swimming in any pool, make sure the water isn’t cloudy, that proper chemical levels are checked regularly and maintained, and that rules against children entering the pool in swim diapers are enforced. See this adult swimming lessons guideline and then join the classes. The experience of the adults will be pleasant when the guidelines will be observed through them.