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Michael Benedict, MD, says despite chlorine and other chemicals, pools still have germs and can cause illness.

Michael Benedict, MD, says despite chlorine and other chemicals, pools still have germs and can cause illness.
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Publish Date: 06/26/08
Media Contact: Katie Pence, 513-558-4561
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UC HEALTH LINE: Chlorine Not a Cure-All for Pool Germs, Expert Says

CINCINNATI—When summer hits, the pool is everyone’s favorite place to spend their lazy days.

It becomes home to hundreds of bored children looking for fun during summer vacation and a popular place for people of all ages to find some refuge from the scorching heat.

But experts at UC say you may be putting yourself or your children at risk for several illnesses or infections if you choose to take a dip in the neighborhood pool.

Michael Benedict, MD, an assistant professor at UC and physician for internal medicine and pediatrics at University Pointe, says that the pool can be a breeding ground for infectious diseases during the summer.

“One of the more common pathogens found in pool water is Cryptosporidium, which causes diarrhea,” he says. “It is relatively chlorine resistant.”

Benedict says that even if you don’t have diarrhea while in the pool, germs may still be present.

“Stay out of the water if you have been experiencing diarrhea,” he says.

Benedict adds that viruses causing various eye infections can also be spread in pools.

He says outbreaks often occur when the pH or chlorine levels in pool water are not adequate, which could easily happen if it is not monitored carefully.

“Swimming is, in essence, communal bathing,” he says. “If you decide to swim in a community pool, a way to avoid spreading or getting infection is to rinse off before and after entering. Also, don’t swim if you are ill.”

Benedict adds that older children, adolescents and adults are also at risk of getting swimmer's ear—an inflammation of the ear canal.

“The major symptom is ear pain, sometimes with drainage; touching the outer ear may increase the pain,” he says.

He says you can help avoid swimmers ear by not excessively cleaning the ear canal—earwax is healthy in normal amounts and acts as a water repellent—and keeping the ear canal dry.

“The best way to keep it dry is to use a regular hair dryer to blow air into the ear after swimming,” he says, adding that there are over-the-counter drops that can also be used to help dry the canal.

For overall pool/sun safety, Benedict recommends slathering on the sunscreen frequently—at least SPF 15—wearing hats or sunglasses that block UV rays and choosing a location to swim that is well monitored.

“Drownings peak at age 12 to 24 months, and they are the No. 1 cause of injury death in this age group,” he says. “Children need to be supervised closely around water. In addition, make sure that pools are adequately fenced in, preferably on all four sides. Inflatable water devices, or water wings, are not effective, and although swimming lessons are recommended for children over age 4, they are not shown to decrease drowning in children.

“Your child’s life may depend on it.”

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