Share the Fun, Not the Germs: Celebrating Healthy and Safe Swimming Week 2015

May 15, 2015

Next Monday will be an exciting day for Georgia’s families as they celebrate Memorial Day and enjoy a long day by the pool. 

In preparation for one of the busiest swimming days of the year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Georgia Department of Public Health’s (DPH) Environmental Health Section are celebrating the 11th annual Healthy and Safe Swimming Week this year on May 18 - 24.

Coordinated the week prior to Memorial Day, Healthy and Safe Swimming Week raises awareness about recreational water illnesses (RWIs), pool injuries, outbreaks, drowning among aquatics and beach staff, pool owners and swimmers.

This year’s theme, “Make a Healthy Splash: Share the Fun, Not the Germs,” places a spotlight on the importance of hygienic practices that reduce the spread of communicable illnesses while engaging in water activities.

According to CDC, RWIs result from exposure to infectious pathogens or chemical agents in treated recreational water venues such as hot tubs, water parks, water play areas and interactive fountains, or untreated water venues including lakes, rivers and oceans.

Germs often found in treated pools include Giardia, norovirus, E. coli and the most common, Cryptosporidium – called Crypto in short.

Since 1984, Cryptosporidium has emerged as the most frequently recognized cause of RWIs, even in well maintained venues such as pools and fountains. Historically, Crypto case reports peak in mid-August, which is the height of the summer swim season.

“Although communicable illnesses such as the flu or colds are associated with winter months, water related illnesses are most prevalent during the summer months,” said Maurice Redmond, M.S., REHS, director of Public Swimming Pool and Tourist Accommodations Program, DPH Environmental Health Section. “The majority of recreational water-borne illnesses occur in treated water venues and most pathogens can be killed quickly by chlorine or bromine disinfectants. Despite these efforts, some germs can survive and pose serious health threats to swimmers.”                                                                                                 

The time it takes for chemicals such as chlorine to kill bacteria varies. In most cases, this process takes less than a minute to about one hour, but germs such as Crypto take longer to eliminate and can survive if the facility is not treated properly.

“Most of the potential disease-causing germs are killed by a disinfectant mechanically injected into a swimming pool through its circulation system,” said Redmond. “However, we do encourage swimmers to be aware of the pool’s water quality. Consumers should ask about daily testing of the water’s disinfectant and pH levels to ensure it meets the state’s guidelines for safe pool water.”

To ensure the safety of swimmers statewide, the Environmental Health Section’s Public Swimming Pool Program coordinates with DPH district-level environmental health specialists on inspection and permitting guidance for approximately 9,000 swimming pools throughout Georgia.

“Our inspections not only stress disease prevention, but also injury prevention,” Redmond said. “Inspectors examine water chemistry and seek out ways to reduce factors associated with chances of illness, death or physical impairment.  These outcomes can be caused by entrapment from a broken suction drain cover, or a damaged fence or gate latch that may contribute to increased risks for a child drowning.  All are important public health interventions we enforce and promote in the practice of environmental health.”

The Public Swimming Pool program has also made great strides in sharing its expertise statewide to raise the bar on pool safety standards.

The team has worked with pool operator training course providers to ensure their courses cover the prerequisite skills and knowledge necessary to operate a public swimming pool in a sanitary and safe manner. DPH also advised leaders from the Georgia chapter of the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals (APSP) for 18 months to secure approval for the organization’s Certified Maintenance Specialist Course in 2014.

The program's efforts to educate pool operators on the latest policies and procedures are making impressive impacts on the pool industry in Georgia.

According to the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF), one of the largest pool operator training providers, Certified Pool Operator credentials in Georgia increased on average from 200 operators annually to more than 900 annually for five years.

Redmond urges the public and pool operators to be aware of the health risks of RWIs, but don’t feel the need to avoid the pool this summer. He reiterates a few health tips residents should keep in mind to enjoy a healthy swimming experience.

“Everyone should remember that in a public swimming pool setting, swimmers share the water. So, avoid swimming if they have a diarrheal illness. Also, no one should ingest swimming pool water or be exposed to improper disinfectants or pH levels,” he said. “We have to work together as a community to ensure we all maximize the health benefits of water activities and maintain a healthy environment while enjoying the water we share and swim in.”

If there are questions or concerns about a public swimming pool operating in Georgia, citizens are encouraged to contact their environmental health specialists at the county health department.

To learn more about DPH’s Public Swimming Pools Program, visit www.dph.georgia.gov/pools

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