Recreational water illnesses or waterborne illnesses sometimes referred to as RWI, affect thousands of swimmers that use swimming pools and spas year-round. Many of these illnesses or outbreaks are caused by microorganisms that can contaminate the water in your pool or spa. As a result of these waterborne illnesses, healthy swimming for your swimming pool and spa users is compromised.
These recreational water illnesses are profoundly serious and should not be taken lightly.
Illnesses contracted in recreational water facilities can be fatal in some cases.
There are four main disease-causing organisms that are a serious threat to all water safety. Not because the water in your facility looks clean and clear, means that it is safe for swimmers! The microorganisms that render our swimming pools and spas unsafe are as follows:
Most of the above-mentioned microorganisms are not easily controlled with chlorine or other pool disinfectants. These diseases are released into your swimming pool by individuals that are infected with them. Whenever an infected person has a fecal accidental release (AFR) in your pool or spa, enteric pathogens are also released.
The safety of your water is now compromised as well as the safety of your swimmers. Enteric pathogens can infect swimmers that may ingest the water in your swimming pool or spa. Many of the infections that are related to swimming pools occur because of the lack of sufficient chlorine or other disinfectants in the water for sanitation.
Earlier I mentioned the four main microorganisms that are the major cause of swimming pool outbreaks or contamination. We will now look at each one of these germs more closely. The first up is Cryptosporidium Parvum. This bacterium is sometimes referred to as "Crypto" for short. It is the most common of all the microorganisms that cause swimming pool water contamination.
This parasite is what we call a protozoon, and it is very resistant to chlorine. This germ can remain active in your pools and spas for several days. It doesn't matter if your chlorine and/or other disinfectants are at normal levels. There are two stages to this protozoon parasite. The first stage is related to gastroenteritis.
This is a common stomach and intestinal disease that occurs in pool and spa users. This recreational water illness can cause minor stomachaches, severe diarrhea, and God forbids, death. The second stage of this disease happens outside the body and is in the form of an OOcyst.
This is the infection side of Cryptosporidium and the form that is very resistant to chlorine. The size of the OOcyst usually ranges from 4 to 6 microns in diameter. Sadly, if a swimming pool user happens to ingest this parasite, symptoms of the disease will not show up until after seven days have passed. This is what we call the incubation period for this parasite.
It only takes a few OOcysts to infect a swimmer to the point that they develop Cryptosporidiosis. Cryptosporidiosis can last anywhere from 10 to 14 days in a healthy swimmer. Symptoms for Crypto include:
Presently there are no known drug treatments that are effective enough to treat this waterborne illness. Unfortunately, if you are immune deficient and you develop this form of recreational water illness, you can have it for the remainder of your life.
We will now look a little closer at Giardia Lamblia, a second form of potential recreational water illness. This microorganism is a single celled one and like Cryptosporidium Parvum, is a protozoon.
Major waterborne illnesses that are associated with this germ seem to occur in water systems that do not have a filtration or circulation system. If your pool or spa filtration system has a defect that is not detected, then Giardia Lamblia can develop. This microorganism is the common cause of non-bacterial diarrhea in North America.
Giardia Lamblia is passed on to others by:
This recreational water illness usually lasts for about one to two weeks. Although there have been reports of chronic infections lasting for months, even years. Giardia lamblia is recognized as one of the most common causes for waterborne illnesses in the United States.
This statistic applies to both drinking and recreational water supplies.
The next bacteria that we will look at is called Shigella.
This is a family of bacteria that will cause diarrhea in humans.
There are several forms of this bacteria.
Consequently, shigella sonnei which is known as group D, is responsible for over two thirds of the shigellosis in the United States.
This form of recreational water illnesses is usually present in diarrheal type stools of infected individuals. Infections in these individuals can last up to two weeks, even after their diarrhea episodes are over. If the circulation system of your swimming pool is poorly set up, a single accidental fecal release from an infected person can infect nearby swimmers.
Shigella lamblia infections are like that of Giardia infections. Meaning that they can occur because of contaminated foods. If your food is handled by an individual who is infected, then your risk of infection is high. This is especially true if the individual fails to wash their hands after using the restroom.
Shigella infections are like other recreational water illnesses such as Cryptosporidium. This means that symptoms from this bacterium, will be in the form of:
Normally Shigellosis will run its course in about 5 to 7 days. If any of your swimming pool or spa users become ill from Shigella, it means that they have ingested contaminated pool water from your facility. Fortunately for us though, this bacterium can be effectively controlled by chlorine and other pool and spa disinfecting chemicals.
The last of the four recreational water illnesses that we will look at is Escherichia coli 0157:H7. Just like Shigella Lamblia, E. coli 0157:H7 can be present in diarrheal stools of infected individuals.
The only good thing about this type of waterborne disease is that it is easily controlled with chlorine at normal levels. However, the elimination of this bacteria is not instant if there is a fecal accident in your pool. You must allow enough time for complete disinfection. For diarrheal stools, this is a 2424-houreriod. More on this later.
Fecal-related illnesses are serious because they can cause other health problems as well. There are two more profoundly serious waterborne illnesses that I must mention here. The first is called Adenovirus. This waterborne illness or recreational water illness is the most common cause of respiratory health problems. There is a good chance that it is also responsible for causing other illnesses which include:
Adenovirus infections can cause severe complications for many swimmers. Especially if many of them have their immune systems compromised. Unwelcome news for many swimming pools and spa facilities. This waterborne illness remains stable in adverse pH conditions.
Because of this, the virus can survive for an exceedingly long time outside of the body.
Users of your swimming pools and spa facilities, will become infected by:
The next illness that I feel must be mentioned here is Hepatitis A. This is a disease of the liver.
Preventing the transmission of this disease requires good hygiene and proper sanitation of your swimming pool facility.
Normally individuals using your swimming facilities will become ill from this disease. This happens when and if they put something in their mouth that has being contaminated by stool from an infected person.
The hepatitis A virus has an incubation period of about 15 to 50 days. This means that an infected individual can spread the virus to others before they begin to display any symptoms of it. Symptoms of this form of recreational water illnesses include:
Many of the above-mentioned waterborne illnesses are known as enteric pathogenic organisms that cause gastrointestinal tract disease. In addition, many of these disease-causing bacteria are related to fecal contamination.
This means that your swimming pool and spa sanitation must always meet the required international and national standards. Taking diligent care of your recreational water facilities the proper way will ensure the safety of your bathers, without exposing them to recreational water illnesses.