Beware the germs in pools
A pre-swim shower can help keep swimming healthy for everyone in the pool this summer.
May 28th, 2012
11:38 AM ET

Beware the germs in pools

It's almost the beginning of summer and you know what that means: Swim season is here. But beware. No matter how clean they may look, public pools could have nasty germs lurking in the water causing them to be more like public bathrooms.

A recent survey conducted by the Water Quality and Health Council found one in five Americans admit to using a public pool for quick relief (urinating) and seven in 10 confessed to skipping a shower before going for a swim.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a pre-swim shower removes sweat, cosmetics and other dirt that could mix with chlorine to create irritants in pool water.

Michele Hlavsa, chief of the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, said, “These irritants, not the chlorine itself, cause red eyes when we swim and the strong chemical smell of some pools.”

How can this contamination be avoided? Make sure you shower with soap and water before you jump in the water.  Take small children on frequent bathroom breaks.  And make sure you have a lifeguard or operator who frequently makes sure the pH and chlorine levels in the pool are up to standard. Proper levels help keep pools healthy by destroying waterborne germs that can cause diarrhea, swimmer's ear and skin infections.

“Swimming is not a substitute for bathing.  Too many people unknowingly treat the pool as a communal bathtub,” said Dr. Chris Wiant, chair of the Water Quality and Health Council, an independent group sponsored by the American Chemical Council. “It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s important to shower before you jump in the pool to help keep swimming healthy for everyone in the pool.”

15 things your lifeguard won't tell you

If you are still leery of pool germs, the Water Quality and Health Council is providing free pool test strips this summer so swimmers can check the pH and chlorine levels in their public pools. You can request them here.

Last summer, the Water Quality and Health Council mailed more than 32,000 free pool test strips to swimmers. Data submitted by swimmers across the nation last summer showed that 54% of pools tested had unacceptable chlorine levels and 47% had inappropriate pH levels.

If you'd like more information, visit the CDC’s website for tips on healthy pools.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.