CDC: public pools often harbor harmful bacteria

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A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that 1 in 8 public swimming pools is in violation of health and safety codes — and that pools at day care centers and children’s facilities seem to be the most frequent offenders. The findings, based on an analysis of more than 120,000 public pool inspections across 13 states, showed that more than 12% of inspections resulted in immediate pool closure due to “serious violations that threatened the public′s health.”

According to the report, several types of public pools had alarmingly high rates of serious health violations — which can include improper disinfectant or pH levels, that can contribute to the spread of bacteria and cause gastroenteritis and other health complications. Pools at childcare centers had the highest rate of serious violations, with 17.2% of inspections resulting in immediate closure, while 13.5% of wading pools for kids were closed after inspection. Hotels didn’t fare much better, with 15.3% having egregious enough violations to warrant immediate closure.

CDC officials say the findings point to a need for more vigilance and enforcement of sanitation standards by public health officials, but also call on individuals to protect themselves from potential illness due to harmful bacteria in public pools. Michele Hlavsa, head of the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, said in a statement about the report findings:

“It′s important for people to play an active role in protecting their own health when they swim.”

The agency recommends that individuals inquire about pool pH levels and even purchase water quality test kits, and offers some common sense suggestions for sanitary swimming — like not swimming if you have diarrhea, not changing diapers poolside and avoiding swallowing pool water.

Learn more about the risks of swimming in contaminated water, and what you can do to protect yourself here.