What’s Really Lurking in Hotel Pools According to the CDC

Swimming and other water-based aerobics are hands-down my favorite types of exercise, so when I’m staying in a hotel with a pool, I get especially excited. While there’s little to no chance I’ll throw a pair of sneakers in my suitcase to workout in a hotel gym, I’m more than happy to shove a swimsuit in and get up a little earlier to squeeze a few laps in (before helping myself to the breakfast buffet). So healthy, right?

Well, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control suggests otherwise. Yes, swimming (and exercise in general) is still definitely good for you, but the water in hotel pools might be another story. Turns out, between 2000 and 2014, there were 493 outbreaks associated with treated recreational water, which caused at least 27,219 cases and eight deaths according to the report.

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By “recreation water,” the CDC means places like pools, hot tubs/spas and interactive water play venues (i.e., those water playgrounds popping up all over the suburbs and in some city parks), and the outbreaks in that water are caused by pathogens or chemicals.

Hotels were the main culprits for these outbreaks, serving as a setting for 157 (32 percent) of the 493 outbreaks. Unsurprisingly, there were more outbreaks during June, July and August than the rest of the year.

So, what’s actually causing these outbreaks? That would be what the CDC terms a “diarrhea incident.” This happens when someone has diarrhea in a water venue and then others ingest it and get sick.

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But isn’t that what chlorine is in the water for? Hypothetically, yes, but the parasite associated with a diarrhea incident is extremely tolerant to chlorine and can survive in water for more than seven days, causing outbreaks that could potentially sicken thousands and spread to other pools, hot tubs, splash parks, etc. If someone who is sick with this pathogen (because they have swallowed contaminated pool water), then has a diarrhea incident of their own (perhaps in another pool), the cycle continues.

The CDC’s main takeaway for the public is “[d]on’t swim or let your kids swim if sick with diarrhea.” We’d follow that one up with “never swallow pool or hot tub water.” So this summer, please remember that water safety means more than wearing the proper flotation device.

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