Germs may lurk in seemingly clear pool waters

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published May 29, 2018

 Pool testing strips, like these sold at Viscount Pools and Spa Center in Madison Heights, can be used to maintain home pools or at public pools and hotels to make sure pH levels and chemicals are properly balanced before your family jumps in.

Pool testing strips, like these sold at Viscount Pools and Spa Center in Madison Heights, can be used to maintain home pools or at public pools and hotels to make sure pH levels and chemicals are properly balanced before your family jumps in.

Photo by Deb Jacques

METRO DETROIT — As you flip through the tantalizing photos of the amenities your newly booked resort hotel boasts, do you spend an extra few seconds gawking at that glistening swimming pool?

You’re not alone — and with around $100 billion spent by Americans on summer vacations each year, according to Market Watch, that’s a lot of folks diving in. So it might come as no surprise that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently claimed that as many as a third of swimming-released illnesses occur at hotels.

According to the report, waterborne disease outbreaks reported from 2000 to 2014 were traced back to hotel pools or hot tubs, caused by bugs like cryptosporidium and legionella, which can survive even in properly maintained pools.

The reason? The more bodies in the water, the more risk that someone swimming is sick and can spread the germs. 

“Swallowing just a mouthful of water with crypto in it can make otherwise healthy kids and adults sick for weeks with watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting,” Michele Hlavsa, chief of the center’s healthy swimming program, said in a prepared statement.

Researchers have noticed that respiratory outbreaks caused by legionella have been on the rise, while skin infections caused by pseudomonas and diarrheal outbreaks caused by crypto have decreased and leveled off, respectively.

Bob Zarcharski, of Viscount Pool Supply in Madison Heights, said the issue typically isn’t a problem with a hotel’s pool maintenance regimen.

“Most of your problems that occur on the commercial end are who’s babysitting the pool in between service,” he said. “Most (hotel) companies will hire pool service companies, but if it’s not being watched in between, that’s when we run into all kinds of problems.”

Hlavsa echoed that thought, explaining that it’s up to guests to keep their germs to themselves if they suspect they’re ill.

“Chlorine cannot kill crypto quickly. We need to keep it out of the water in the first place. Don’t go into the water and don’t let your kids go into the water if sick with diarrhea,” she said in the statement.

The center’s report includes steps that families can use to prevent infection, which include a quick check of the pool, hot tub or water park’s inspection scores; extra efforts to not swallow water; hourly bathroom breaks or diaper changes for kids; and even bringing your own pH and bromine or free chlorine test strips, available at pool supply stores.

A few extra precautions can go a long way for the home pool, too, according to Zarcharski. 

“When you get into the private sector of pool care, the problems you encounter in your backyard swimming pool are usually just homeowner neglect,” he explained. “A pool is just like a dog: You’ve got to feed it every day, and if you don’t, it gets mean and you get problems. You have to take the time and energy to go out and take care of it.”

Taking care of it, Zarcharski said, means making sure all those chemicals are properly balanced. The pH level is the backbone of a healthy pool, he said, sitting somewhere between 7.2. and 7.8, whether a pool is sanitized via chlorine or salt. 

Then, he said, “the greatest chemical in pool care is electricity,” meaning, run the filter to sift out debris. And test, test, test to make sure more chlorine isn’t needed — keep it at about 1.5 parts per million — particularly after a summer storm.

It might sound like a lot to remember, but a pool supply expert can give you a thorough rundown, and once you suit up, you’ll be happy you watched what chemicals are going into the pool — and which kiddos with tummy aches are staying out. 

“When you get in and you can jump in without any irritation, open your eyes underwater and not worry about your hair changing colors, that’s what you want,” he said.