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Back To Vidyya Waterborne Illnesses Increasing At Public Pools

Government Launches Healthy Swimming Campaign

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 pools.

"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 1,400 people.

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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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