Friday, February 29, 2008

You sure you want to go into that pool?

We all know the risks of swimming pools, especially kids. All is going well until suddenly little Johnny or Susie has a little accident, and the water turns yellow. Time to get out of the pool. Well, that is usually the type of accident that may go unnoticed in a large public pool. However, when the accident is a little more substantial, there are actually guidelines that suggest you may need to close the pool.

The Centers for Disease Control publish a document known as the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (and no, I don't read it every week. That's what feed readers are for: to point out the highlights for me). Recently, there was a notice on "Revised Recommendations for Responding to Fecal Accidents in Disinfected Swimming Venues." As I often tell my students, government documents are a good information source because the government pretty much investigates just about everything, and then they type it up neatly. As you can see, they even make documents for keeping your pool safe and clean. Now, a lot of the report is a little technical, making a distinction between "diarrheal fecal accidents" and "formed-stool accidents." In other words, the difference between a few floating objects and a spill that rivals the Exxon Valdez disaster. Guess which one the CDC sees as a higher risk of infection.

If you are curious, you can read the full set of response guidelines here (PDF) which will tell you "what do you do when you find poop in the pool" (their words. I wish I was making it up). One of the suggestions is explaining to patrons why a pool closure may be necessary. After all, closing the pool causes an inconvenience and ruins everyone's fun. But more importantly, you may have that one reticent person who does not think a little poo is a big deal. They may think they can just swim around it. So, pool operators are advised to remember that "understanding that pool closure is necessary for proper disinfection and protection of the health and safety of swimmers is likely to promote support rather than frustration" (1). If you have to actually tell people that getting out of a poopy pool is a good idea, you've got more problems than just the accident. Once you do close the pool, there are guidelines for how to treat the pool, how long you have to stay closed, and what to do to open it again.

For additional information, the CDC does have a section in their website on healthy swimming. Then again, you sure you want to go into that pool?

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