Swimming pools with their sparkling blue water and strong
chlorine odor are far from clean, and government health officials are launching a
campaign to warn against the rise in illnesses caused by contaminated public
"People need to remember that swimming is essentially communal bathing and
the water is not clean and you can transmit diseases if the water is
contaminated," said Rachel Barwick, an epidemiologist in the division of parasitic
diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The outbreaks, caused mostly by children having fecal accidents in the water,
generally led to stomach problems and diarrhea, the CDC said Thursday.
Swimming water should never be swallowed because chlorine does not kill all
germs, Barwick said, and anyone with diarrhea should not swim. She also
cautioned about proper washing before entering the pool and said diapers should
not be changed at poolside.
In 1997 and 1998, the most recent years for which figures are available, 2,128
people were sickened by the water at public pools. In '98 alone there were 25
outbreaks, the highest number since 1992.
The CDC had better news about drinking water Thursday, reporting that
scientists are seeing fewer illnesses caused by municipal systems.
In 1998, 10 cases involving drinking water were reported, a dramatic fall from a
peak of more than 50 cases in 1980. The CDC said the credit could go to stricter
government regulations and increased effort by local water suppliers.
Still, more than 2,000 people became sick from their drinking water in 1997 and
1998, the CDC said. Contaminated wells and groundwater were mostly to blame.
The worst outbreak was in Texas in July 1998, when 160,000 gallons of raw
sewage seeped into an aquifer providing water to five municipal wells, sickening