The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found high rates of fecal matter microbes in the Atlanta metro area's public pools last summer, according to a report released today. The news has led to some predictably hilarious, not to mention gross, headlines this afternoon.
Here's what the report really says: Among 161 samples of pool filter backwash, which tends to be more contaminated than pool water, researchers found P. aeruginosa in 59 percent and E. coli in 58 percent of the samples. The former can be introduced through factors including dirt, kickboards, skin, or fecal matter. The presence of E. coli, the report notes, "indicates that swimmers frequently introduced fecal material into pools," which can come from traces on swimmers or an accident in the pool.
E. coli was just as likely in indoor and outdoor pools, but was significantly more likely in municipal pools versus membership and club pools. The table below shows this breakdown by type of pool.
% of samples with
% of samples with
The test only determined if the microbes were in the sample, not if they were infectious. The pools in the study were also a convenience sample, according to the report, and "study findings cannot be generalized to pools in metro-Atlanta or beyond." Also, it noted that there were no illnesses reported from swimming pools in the state that year.
But the CDC says the presence of these microbes is a problem, and likely a widespread one. The report notes:
Since 1978, the incidence of recreational water illness (RWI) outbreaks of acute gastrointestinal illness has substantially increased, driving the marked increase in incidence of RWI outbreaks overall. A major contributing factor is poor swimmer hygiene (i.e., diarrheal incidents) in the implicated pools.
It advocates proper pool maintenance as well, but the moral of the report? Shower before swimming, take bathroom breaks, and wash your hands after using the bathroom. Also, duh, don't drink pool water.