CDC: Poop In Pools Common; How Dangerous Are Public Pools?

By Philip Ross on May 17, 2013 12:15 PM EDT

poop in pools
Public pools are just like community bathtubs. Even the most closely monitored and well-sterilized pools can spread illness. (Photo: Reuters)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, has some unpleasant news for us: There's enough poop in pools to make even the most insouciant swimmer think twice before cannonballing into the clear, blue depths of a public swimming pool.

Poop In Pools, A Source Of Unsafe Pathogens

A new study from the CDC found that 58 percent of public pools contained the E. coli bacterium, a pretty solid indicator that there's poop in over half our pools.

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CDC investigators tested more than 160 pools in the Atlanta area and found that 93 of them contained E. coli, a bacterium that lives in the intestinal tract of humans. If ingested, E. coli can cause nausea and vomiting, severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever and fatigue.

The Los Angeles Times reports that of the 161 pool filters tested by the CDC, 75 percent of them contained at least one of the microbes researchers were looking for. In addition to E. coli, their list of infectious pathogens, all of which come from poop in the pools, also included Giardia and Cryptosporidium.

What Can Be Done About Poop In Pools?

And, unfortunately, there's not much we can really do about poop in public pools.

"Chlorine and other disinfectants don't kill germs instantly," Michele Hlavsa, chief of CDC's Healthy Swimming Program, told Live Science.

In fact, some pathogens can live for days in a chlorinated swimming pool. According to the CDC, it takes less than a minute for the E. coli bacterium to become inactive in chlorinated water. However, the picture is not so bright for other pathogens.

The hepatitis A virus, which is responsible for liver disease, can survive up to 16 minutes in disinfected water; the Giardia parasite, a microscopic organism which causes an intestinal infection called giardiasis, can live for about 45 minutes; and the Cryptosporidium parasite, a source of diarrhea and stomach cramps, can thrive for up to 10 days!

These recreational water illnesses are spread by swallowing pool water infected with fecal matter.

Who's To Blame For Poop In Pools?

"A formed stool may contain no germs, a few, or many that can cause illness," the CDC reports. "You won't know. The germs that may be present are less likely to be released into the pool because they are mostly contained within the stool. However, formed stool also protects germs inside from being exposed to the chlorine in the pool, so prompt removal is necessary."

And what's the worst kind of poop in pools? You guessed it -- diarrhea.

"Diarrheal incidents are much more likely than formed stool to contain germs," says the CDC.

So who's to blame for all of this poop in pools? While poor maintenance is surely a cause of infected pool water, swimmers have to shoulder some of the responsibility as well. For one, baby's diapers should be checked every half hour to every hour. Also, people who are sick and have diarrhea should keep clear of the water.

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