The Grapevine

Bacteria, Other Parasites Are Swimming In Hotel Pools, CDC Report Warns

For many people, going on vacation and checking into a hotel provides the exciting opportunity of taking a dip in the swimming pool or getting to relax in the hot tub. But is there a possible health risk even if you know how to swim?

A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) titled "Outbreaks Associated with Treated Recreational Water — United States, 2000–2014" was published on May 18 and detailed this.

How many cases of illness or death did the report reveal?

From the year 2000 to 2014, public health officials from 46 states and Puerto Rico reported 493 outbreaks which were linked to recreational water i.e. man-made water bodies such as swimming pools, hot tubs, spas, and water playgrounds.

According to the report, these infectious disease outbreaks resulted in eight deaths and 27,219 cases. In total, almost one third (32 percent) of all outbreaks occurred in hotels which included motels, lodges, and inns.

What kinds of bacteria/parasites caused the outbreaks?

Of all the outbreaks with a confirmed source, 58 percent were caused by the parasite Cryptosporidium (Crypto) which can cause gastrointestinal illness. It is highly tolerant to chlorine disinfection, making it a leading cause of waterborne disease in the United States.

13 percent of cases were also attributed to Pseudomonas, which can cause conditions like “hot tub rash” and “swimmers’ ear”. Meanwhile, six of the eight deaths and 16 percent of the illnesses were linked to Legionella, a bacterium which can cause severe pneumonia or a milder illness with flu-like symptoms.

How do these pathogens spread and flourish in man-made waters?

The report highlighted how diarrhea can infect water bodies with germs that may be tolerant to disinfectants. "Don’t swim or let your kids swim if sick with diarrhea," the CDC stated, recommending that swimmers with diarrhea stay out of public pools for at least two weeks.

At 56 percent, more than half of all outbreaks happened during the period from June to August, the report found. Higher temperatures appear to help certain bacteria and infectious agents flourish and reproduce at higher rates.

In light of these findings, how can people stay safe when swimming?

"The advice is pretty standard no matter who you are," said lead author Michele Hlavsa, who is the chief of the CDC's Healthy Swimming Program. "Once in the water, don't drink the water you swim in."

Another precaution people can take is to check the inspection scores of public treated recreational water venues. For instance, the authors state, one can measure the free chlorine level and pH by using test strips which can be bought at pool supply, hardware, and big-box stores.

Experts also recommend that the bottom of the pool or hot tub should be visible, otherwise the water is not clean enough. Discolored water, lack of circulation facilities, lack of shower facilities, and strong smells are also signs to watch out for.