Are You Swimming in a Toilet?

August 31, 2011 by John Oliver

E. Coli outbreaks across the country have been compromising the health and well being of swimmers this summer. This dangerous bacteria has been linked to dozens of hospitalizations. Thirteen people were hospitalized after visiting a state park in Pennsylvania. According to an article on, "eight of the swimmers had developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a life-threatening complication of the disease in which the kidney shuts down as a result of the poison released by the bacteria."

E. Coli, as well as a variety of other water-borne bacteria, is introduced into the water by fecal matter present on swimmers' bodies. Each time a swimmer fails to shower before entering a pool, hot tub, or other recreational water feature, the bacteria on their body washes off into the pool.

The scariest part of these recreational water illnesses (RWIs) is that even a chemically-treated pool can be susceptible to chlorine-resistant strands of bacteria. We have prepared a thorough Recreational Water Illness Prevention resource that provides several helpful tips for pool operators, casual swimmers, and parents of young children.

3 Quick Tips for Preventing Recreational Water Illnesses

1. Stop Bypassing the Shower Stalls

Nearly every pool I've ever visited has a "Shower Before Swimming" sign posted in the locker rooms. Unfortunately, I'd be a rich man if I had a dollar for every time I've personally witnessed someone walk right through the locker room into the pool area without so much as glancing at the showers.

Swimmers, you need to understand that even when you think you might be clean there is a very real possibility that you have trace amounts of harmful bacteria on your body. Even a very quick shower will wash a significant amount of that bacteria away.

Pool operators, it's time to start enforcing this very important rule. I recognize that this is a difficult rule to enforce... in fact, it is currently leading in our poll on the most difficult pool rules to enforce. Take a look at our Lifeguard Commandment Video on Enforcing Pool Rules and make sure to vote in the poll. It may take temporary drastic measures to get swimmers to shower, like staffing a guard at the locker room exit/pool entrance for a week or two to make sure swimmers are bathing.

2. Don't Swim with Diarrhea

With flu season right around the corner, swimmers and pool operators need to be conscious of the fact that more and more people may be entering their local pools while suffering from cases of diarrhea. The only way to enforce this rule is to educate swimmers - especially parents of young children - of the dangers associated with swimming while suffering from an upset stomach. You will never prevent everyone from swimming while they're under the weather, but you may be able to prevent some instances.

3. Don't Drink the Water

This tip may seem like an obvious suggestion, but we have all seen that group of kids spitting pool water at one another. If lifeguards and parents let swimmers know it isn't safe to even gurgle the water, we may be able to successfully prevent many cases of RWIs.

Bonus Tip: Keep a Look Out for the RWI Police

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