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Staying afloat in a pool of infection

It is amazing how even people who only eat salad washed in mineral water and use filtered water to brush their teeth forget all about germ-infestation when it comes to swimming pools, writes Sanchita Sharma.
Hindustan Times | By Sanchita Sharma
UPDATED ON MAY 11, 2008 01:08 AM IST

A friend recently informed me that his popularity shoots up in tandem with the rising temperature. Each summer, his hot-weathered friends preferred his largish swimming pool more than his company. Since I hadn’t used his pool ever, I said I was relieved he didn’t consider me a part of this deciduous gang of friends. The harmless statement drove him into a frenzy. He waved his arms and said all his acquaintances were banned from using the word ‘relieve’. That, it seems, was just what all swimmers were doing in his pool.

It’s not the people in the pool I mind, he said, but what they do in it. He was convinced piddling in the pool was a national obsession, far more popular than IPL. If it were to be made an Olympic sport, he said, India would get its first gold since 1980 and its first water sport gold ever. Even putting up a board that reads ‘I don’t swim in your toilet, so don’t you dare pee in my pool’ hasn’t stopped these serial pool polluters. His friends read it, chuckled and jumped in to piddle some more. Now that his hi-tech filteration system had collapsed under the strain, he was planning to convert the pool into a squash court.

Though relieved — no, happy—that I hadn’t used his filthy pool, I was left worrying about the unhygienic condition of shared pools, the ones in clubs and hotels that most of us ended up using. It is amazing how even people who only eat salad washed in mineral water and use filtered water to brush their teeth forget all about germ-infestation when it comes to swimming pools. Now that pools have become the Mecca for hundreds of restless children on vacation, parents, more than anyone else, need to make sure the pool they use is clean and chlorinated. And, more importantly, they should help in keeping it that way by observing basic pool hygiene and keeping sick children home. Since too much disinfectant and chlorine can also cause eye irritation, eczema and rashes, use only the pools where the water is clear enough for you to see your toes while standing in the water.

Disgusting as it sounds, piddling in the pool continues to be the leading cause of water contamination. Too lazy to leave the pool to trot to the toilets, people take the easy way out, putting themselves and others at the risk of a host of infections, from viral fever to chest infection and jaundice. The pre-swim shower — so essential to wash away sweat (which, like urea, contains ammonia and ureum), cosmetics, dirt and pollutants — is not taken thoroughly by most swimmers.

Swallowing water accidentally is a common cause of diarrhoea among swimmers, especially if the pool is crowded and not chlorinated regularly. Insufficient chlorine and clogged filters cannot adequately disinfect water, making it a home to bacteria like E. Coli, which causes diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, jaundice and Hepatitis A & D. Other germs like Staphylococcus and Streptococcus (cause ear, nose, throat and skin infections), Pseudomonas aeruginosa (cause eye, ear and skin infections) and Mycobacterium marinum (cause skin rashes) also fester in unchlorinated water.

Since most infections spread through bodily discharge that contaminates the pool water, avoiding swimming till you are in the pink of health would help you and others stay that way.

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