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Water quality counts when it comes to pool, beach, safety

By Staff | May 24, 2008

Thousands of Cape Coral residents are planning family picnics and celebrations for this Memorial Day weekend and, since many will spend their weekends at the beach or the family pool, the Florida Department of Health wants swimmers to practice healthy behaviors to avoid waterborne illnesses.

The week of May 19 to May 25 is National Recreational Water Illness Prevention Week.

There are many microscopic risks facing swimmers including waterborne illnesses from certain types of bacteria and freshwater amebas such as Naegleria.

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s Division of Parasitic Diseases, recreational water illness, or RWI, is spread by swallowing, breathing or having contact with water from contaminated swimming pools, spas or fresh bodies of water.

In 2007, the CDC reported, there were more RWI investigations carried out by local and state health officials than at any other time.

The recent increase in reports of RWI were attributed to an upsurge in the presence of Cryptosporidium, a chlorine resistant parasite that is passed from person to person within a pool.

Since more people will be swimming in pools or using spas this season, the CDC recommends that people refrain from swimming if they have diarrhea. And if children who are swimming have diarrhea, they recommend that the child takes frequent bathroom breaks and that any diapers are changed often.

“If you have diarrhea, stay out of the water. The most common way to get sick in the pool is if people have diarrhea because it takes chlorine a lot longer to break down certain bugs,” said Jim Love, environmental administrator from the Lee County Department of Environmental Health.

These types of illnesses are commonly spread through pathogens in diarrhea such as the Norovirus, Shigella and E. Coli. If these pathogens are released in a swimming pool, any swimmers in the pool could ingest them and become ill.

Many public swimming pools ask swimmers to take a shower and wash their hands before swimming to clear their bodies of any germs.

Of course, how a swimming pool or spa is maintained also can have an effect on the presence of germs. For instance, if a pool or spa has a strong chemical smell, it may have a problem. If it is maintained correctly, it should have no odor, the water should be clear and the tiles should not be sticky or slippery.

County health officials said that they carry out routine inspections in all of the public pool facilities at a minimum of twice a year to monitor their safety requirements and disinfection levels. These facilities also are required to test the chlorine and pH levels at least twice a day.

“We inspect all of the public pools in Lee at least two times a year, check water quality and safety equipment in all of those pools,” said Love.

The county health department also doesn’t advise people to swim in ponds, lakes or any other fresh body of water because of the risk of contracting Naegleria, an amoeba that enters the body through the nose and attacks the brain tissue. If untreated, it can result in death.

The CDC reported that in the last 10 years there were more than 33 infections reported in the United States. During the 2007 summer season in Florida, three boys died as a result of contracting the Naegleria amoeba, which shows flu-like symptoms.

“We don’t advise people to swim in ponds or lakes, a rare amoeba, that can go into your nasal cavity can be fatal,” said Love.

Public beaches in Sanibel, Bonita Springs, Cape Coral and Fort Myers Beach are also monitored on a weekly basis, Love said, to keep people informed on the levels of bacteria.

“At the beach, we sample the water every week, if it comes up with high levels we verify it and if it comes a second time we put up a sign saying not to swim,” said Love.