58% of US pools contain fecal germ E. coli

Wednesday, 29 May, 2013

Following a new study in the US that found genetic fragments from the fecal germ E. coli in 58% of public pools, experts have spoken out saying there is no cause for alarm.

“The study did not test for living bacteria,” said the American ABC News’ chief health and medical editor Dr Richard Besser. “It’s possible and likely that many of these germs were dead. That’s why we put disinfectants in swimming pools in the first place. Our bodies are covered with bacteria, some harmful and some not.”

For the study, researchers from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) performed genetic testing on samples scraped from the filters of 161 Atlanta-area public pools. 93 of the samples came back positive for E. coli genetic fragments, which could have come from living germs or germs killed off by chlorine and other disinfecting chemicals.

Either way, the fragments came from bacteria that probably came from human faeces - a fact that might be unsettling for some. Nevertheless, Michele Hlavsa, chief of CDCP’s Healthy Swimming Program, stressed that swimming is still a great way to get exercise and stay healthy.

“Pool users should be aware of how to prevent infections while swimming,” she said in a statement. “That’s why it’s important for swimmers to protect themselves by not swallowing the water they swim in and to protect others by keeping feces and germs out of the pool by taking a pre-swim shower and not swimming when ill with diarrhoea.”

E. coli wasn’t the only germ floating around in the tested pools. 95 of the pools tested contained DNA belonging to Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bug that can cause skin rashes and ear infections. 67 of the pools contained DNA from both bacteria, according to the study, but none of the pools were the source of a disease outbreak.

“Although this sounds alarming, we need to be careful here,” said Besser, explaining how the findings should come as no surprise considering that the average swimmer, according to the CDC, has 0.14 grams of fecal material on his or her body that could rinse off into the water. “The only way to remove this is with a vigorous shower using soap and water. And most public pools only provide outdoor showers that let people rinse off while keeping their bathing suits on.”

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