Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Germwarfare and Your Aquatic Facility

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Germwarfare and Your Aquatic Facility

Article excerpt

The initial hysteria of an E. coli outbreak allegedly traced to a Georgia waterpark tot pool has slowly subsided. The questions raised by the outbreak, however, have not. How did the children get exposed to the fecal material in the pool? Doesn't chlorine quickly kill germs? Wasn't there any chlorine in the pool? Are they sure the infection came from the pool? Could this happen at my pool? In the months following the outbreak, I received many calls from concerned citizens regarding our fecal accident policy. I read articles from seemingly informed authorities, which only seemed to add to the public's hysteria. So how do we separate fact from frenzy and find a reasonable and safe way to handle fecal accidents without losing operating days and customers?

First of all, let's take a look at the germs in question. These four pesky pathogens are of the greatest concern to pool operators: Escherichia coli 0157:H7, or E. coli; Cryptosporidium parvum, a.k.a. Crypto; Giardia lamblia; and Pseudomonas auruginosa. There are more, but these seem to be seen more often in the newspapers. The most prominent in the news and hysteria department are E. coli and Crypto. Both of these are bad bugs that affect the intestinal tracts of their hosts, causing diarrhea, dehydration, and even death in some cases. Healthy people may fight off the disease after exposure without symptoms. However, the elderly, very young, and those suffering from an autoimmune deficiency may become very ill, develop complications, or die as a result of exposure. Normal chlorine levels in a swimming pool quickly kill E. coli. However, it may take three days to rid a properly chlorinated pool of Crypto.

Either infection may be spread by a patron putting something into his or her mouth that has been contaminated by the stool of an infected person or animal. At a swimming pool, that could be something eaten for lunch, unwashed hands, or more remotely the pool water.

If Crypto takes so long to die, why aren't there more Crypto infections? The truth is that very few people have the disease, and even fewer of those people are experiencing fecal releases in pools. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has claimed that at least 10 outbreaks of Crypto have been tied to swimming pools or waterparks since 1988.

The most noteworthy was a 1988 incident in Los Angeles. At least 44 people contracted Cryptosporidiosis (the actual condition caused by Cryptosporidiurn protozoa) after swimming at a high-school pool. This pool was high-use, low-volume (100,000 gallons), and one-third of the filter was not working. While this is true of many older pools, one question still remains: Why are more people not getting sick? The answer is that the introduction of infected material into swimming pools is very rare.

As concerned pool operators, we cannot ignore the danger these bad bugs present to our patrons; we also should not overreact and assume that every defecation in a pool is loaded with Crypto. Dumping a 500,000-gallon pool, chemically retreating and reheating the new water, and sterilizing the pool filters will kill the bad bugs -- if they were ever there in the first place. If we look at all the pools in the United States, count all the swimmer entries to those pools, and calculate all the people who have been infected by the aforementioned bacteria, we can see that the statistical probability of being infected is very remote. Natural-water swimming areas such as beaches may have legal levels of E. coli large enough to infect nearly 10 out of every 1,000 swimmers (CDC). Still, few reported infections from this organism come from swimming beaches.

So why the hysteria? Perhaps we suffer from too much information -- and not enough fact and actual application to the situation of pool operators. Published articles that advise dumping pools, sterilizing filters, and generally closing down facilities at any confirmed "pool stool" sighting are not considering the probability that someone will get sick. …

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