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Basic hygiene practices reduce bacteria in swimming pools

USU Extension

After last summer's incidents with cryptosporidium, it is more important than ever for Carbon County swimmers to be careful, courteous and aware of practices proven to reduce the amount of bacteria entering public swimming pools.

Basic hygiene practices should be followed to make public swimming safe for everyone.

According to Teresa Hunsaker, Utah State University Extension family and consumer science educator, it is important to remind children to wash hands frequently and never drink the swimming pool water.

Children should also bathe or shower before entering the pool.

"It seems obvious, but remind children not to use the pool as a restroom," advised Hunsaker. "Parents should take children on bathroom breaks frequently and should limit the time children are in the pool. Even if a toddler is potty trained, accidents still happen, which caused many problems last year. And most importantly, never take a child with diarrhea to the pool. He or she should wait two weeks after the last incident before entering a public pool."

Hunsaker said adults and older youth should be sure to change diapers in the bathroom, not around the pool or swim area and have sanitation supplies on hand, including antibacterial solutions.

People should always wash hands thoroughly after diapering youngsters.

"It is also important to have the proper swim diaper for your child," continued Hunsaker. "Swim diapers will likely become a safety requirement at all public swimming pools, so it is important to know the options."

When purchasing swim diapers, Hunsaker said people should look for a correct fit.

The diapers should fit snuggly around the legs and waist.

Most swim products are sized the same as regular disposable diapers.

There are two types of swim diapers - reusable and disposable.

Reusable diapers are made of a breathable, man-made fiber, usually of a swimwear-type fabric, with a well-padded interior and a soft lining. 

The products are usually sold as swimwear diapers.

Hunsaker said reusable products maintain shape better than disposable swim diapers.

The products are more lightweight and do not disintegrate in the pool. The fit is also more snug.

The cost per use of reusable swim diapers last longer, making the products more economical.

Disadvantages include the initial cost and the inconvenience of washing the reusable products.

Disposable swim diapers are more convenient and initially less expensive than the reusable products, said Hunsaker.

One problem is that the polymer/gel beads in disposable swim diapers can clog pool filters and cleaning systems.

But the biggest problem is that the diapers absorb water and lose shape. Therefore, disposable swim products may not sufficiently hold in fecal material.

"The state of Utah health department suggests that a disposable diaper be used under the reusable diapers," said Hunsaker. "Another option is vinyl pants over a disposable swim diaper. Each public pool or water park will likely have their own enforced requirement for keeping pools safe."

When fecal material is released from a diaper, she explained that the pool must be evacuated while maintenance workers add chlorine to kill the bacteria.

People then have to wait until the added chlorine disperses and reaches safe levels before re-entering the pool.

Urine in a swimming pool is less of a health risk than feces.

A soiled diaper may contain diarrhea causing germs, including cryptosporidium, E. coli, norovirus or giardia, pointed out Hunsaker.

In otherwise healthy people, a cryptosporidium infection generally causes severe diarrhea lasting from one to two weeks.

People with severely weakened immune systems, however, may not survive the infection.

Proper swim diapers can make a difference in keeping public pools safer, but the products are not foolproof.

It is important to be aware of the downfalls associated with the swim diapers, noted Hunsaker.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "The use of swim diapers and swim pants may give many parents and pool staff a false sense of security regarding fecal contamination ... Be aware that swim diapers and swim pants are not a solution for a child with diarrhea or a substitute for frequent diaper changing. It is recommended that you change your child often and make frequent trips to the toilet while swimming." 

The bottom line is being considerate of others, stressed Hunsaker.

People should follow the safety and individual pool guidelines. And most importantly, Carbon County residents should keep children out of a swimming pool for two weeks after a case of diarrhea, concluded Hunsaker.

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