Stay Safe and Clean During Summer Swims

Swimming pool filters contain bacteria that indicate need for better swimmer hygiene

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A great way to cool off in the summer heat is a dip in a swimming pool. If you visit public pools, though, take the steps necessary to protect yourself and others from bacteria.

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found bacteria in more than half the public pool filters in the Atlanta area.

They did not find high levels of bacteria that cause illness.

The bacteria was found in filters, which are supposed to have higher levels of contamination because they filter it out of the water.

The findings are not cause for alarm. They suggest that swimmers should simply be sure to take precautions like showering before swimming and taking regular bathroom breaks.

"Practice good swimming hygiene."

The study, led by Christopher Hutcheson of Cobb & Douglas Public Health, investigated the filters of pools throughout the metropolitan area of Atlanta, Georgia, in the summer of 2012.

The researchers collected 161 samples from the filters of both indoor and outdoor pools.

The purpose of filters is to remove contamination from the water, so it is common for bacteria and other microbes to build up in filters.

The researchers found that 59 percent of the filter samples contained the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can occur from dirt in the environment, from swimmers or from water toys, such as kickboards.

The P. aeruginosa bacteria can cause skin rashes and ear infections.

"P. aeruginosa detection underscores the need for vigilant pool cleaning, scrubbing, and water quality maintenance (e.g., disinfectant level and pH) to ensure that concentrations do not reach levels that negatively impact swimmer health," the researchers wrote.

The researchers also found the bacteria E. coli in 58 percent of the samples.

E. coli results from fecal matter in the pool, which can wash off swimmers' bodies or can occur if a child has an accident in the pool with feces or diarrhea.

The bacteria were found in the filters, not in the pools, and the researchers were not investigating illnesses.

Further, none of the water samples tested positive for the particular strain of E. coli that causes illness.

Less than 2 percent of the samples contained Cryptosporidium and Giardia, which occur in feces and can cause diarrhea.

Therefore, the findings do not raise a high level of concern. They do, however, mean that swimmers need to be conscientious about good hygiene in public pools.

"These findings indicate the need for swimmers to help prevent introduction of pathogens (e.g., taking a pre-swim shower and not swimming when ill with diarrhea), aquatics staff to maintain disinfectant level and pH according to public health standards to inactivate pathogens, and state and local environmental health specialists to enforce such standards," the researchers wrote.

The CDC offers the following suggestions to keep feces and other sources of contamination out of public pools and to protect swimmers:

  • Do not swim while you have diarrhea.
  • Ensure your children do not swim if they have diarrhea.
  • Take a shower with soap before you begin swimming.
  • Take a quick rinse shower before returning to the water.
  • Take a bathroom break once each hour.
  • Take children for bathroom breaks at least once an hour.
  • Wash your hands with soap after using the bathroom or changing diapers.
  • Check diapers every 30 to 60 minutes.
  • Change diapers in the bathroom or diaper-changing areas, not at the pool side.
  • Do not swallow the water you swim in.

The report was published in the May 16 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 16, 2013
Last Updated:
September 17, 2013