Can recreational facilities such as bathing beaches, swimming pool, sauna, spa, hot tub, whirlpool etc. develop contamination of pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms)?

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Can recreational facilities such as bathing beaches, swimming pool, sauna, spa, hot tub, whirlpool etc. develop contamination of pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms)?

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Jane Amar

Forget the great white shark in "Jaws." Reading the list of Recreational Water Illnesses at the website of the Centers for Disease Control will scare you out of the water! These illnesses, which include Cryptosporidium, shigella, and E. coli are potentially serious. Beaches become contaminated with these pathogens after rains. Cities must clean up wastewater before discharging it into sewers that lead to the ocean. Rainfalls that produce runoff carry everything that was in the gutter–dog, bird and animal droppings, human garbage and other contaminants. Beaches often are closed to protect swimmers but showering immediately after swimming anywhere is a basic defense.

One icky thought–the CDC reports that even supposedly clean human bottoms have residues of fecal matter. A heavily used pool or spa is probably contaminated. Proper use of chorine will protect uses of recreational public pools, spas and saunas, but individual cleanliness is the best way to keep safe.

Basic advice: don’t swallow the water! Don’t swim if you have a cut or open sore of any kind–even if not infectious to others it allows pathogens an easy path into your body. If you own the pool or spa make sure you follow the guidelines correctly for disinfecting the pool. Don’t let family members who are ill, especially if one of the symptoms is diarrhea, use the facility. Everyone should practice the same hygiene before dipping in the pool together as eating at the table together–wash your hands after using the bathroom and stay away if you are ill.

Natural water bodies are not chlorinated so swimmers are on their own. Public agencies generally test these waters for pathogens to protect users. Swimmers can still get exposed. Personal hygiene, not swallowing water and washing up after swims will help protect your from those microbial sharks swimming around with you.

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A. PBR offers comprehensive monitoring services for raw waters as well as processed waters for bacterial and viral contaminations.

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