RWIs, short for Recreational Water Illnesses, can come in a variety of forms. The most common are diarrheal illnesses, but respiratory infections can also pose a major threat. For swimming pool owners, understanding the causes and risks associated with pool water can be helpful in ensuring that their own pools offer a healthy place for themselves as well as family and friends. When it comes to respiratory RWIs, the leading cause is legionella, a microscopic germ that causes Legionnaires’ Disease.
Where Do Legionella Originate?
Legionella is actually a bacteria that naturally occurs in water — especially warm water, making those who use heated swimming pools and hot tubs especially susceptible to contracting Legionnaires’ Disease. In fact, the most common way to contract the disease is by breathing in steam from a hot tub. Exposure to legionella can also occur through other avenues though, including cooling towers, decorative fountains, plumbing systems, and swimming pools.
What Is Legionnaires’ Disease?
Legionnaires’ Disease is actually a category of pneumonia that affects somewhere between 8,000 and 18,000 people in the U.S. alone. Although typically treatable with antibiotics, this disease can become fatal. Individuals at greatest risk include those who smoke or have chronic lung disease or weakened immune systems as well as anyone over age 50.
How Can You Lessen Risks for Legionnaires’ Disease?
Pool and hot tub owners can help reduce the likelihood of contracting Legionnaires’ by regularly checking chemical levels, especially when the pool or spa is being used more than it usually is. You can also reduce contaminants by requesting that pool users shower before entering the pool. If you have a hot tub, make sure that you regularly clean and scrub its surfaces to remove the biofilm layer and replace the water filter on a regular basis.
Especially if you or someone else in your family has added risk factors for Legionnaires’, you may wish to bring pool test strips with you whenever you use a public hot tub. (Proper levels are 2-4ppm chlorine, 4-6 ppm bromine, and a pH level between 7.2-7.8.)
If you discover improper chemical levels at a spa, you can inform the hot tub operator, ask how often chemical levels are tested, or ask about the score for the last health inspection. However, you really aren’t in control when you’re using public pools and hot tubs. The best way to avoid coming into contact with legionella is to use your own swimming pool or spa and ensure that proper care is taken to maintain proper chemical levels. Not only will you be in control of the cleanliness of your own private pool, but with a private pool you’re less likely to experience high levels of contaminants that naturally lead to chloramines and imbalanced pool chemicals to begin with.
Continue reading with Part 2.
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