The Chlorinated Swimming Pool and Urinary Infections

Consider this: The average American water park contains 3-4 pounds of fecal matter (that is, poop) in the water. And this poopy contaminant is mostly from adult swimmers who neglect to wipe properly and shower before getting into the pool. (WebND)

Now, chlorine is a fairly powerful chemical that can kill off most germs in seconds, but there are some nastier microorganisms that take much longer to die: e coli, giardia, and shingella are three such frequent fecal contaminants that can end up in the water as a result of swimmers with diarrhea. Cryposporidium is the nastiest little parasite to be water-borne and can live up to seven days in chlorinated pools. (WebND)

The intestinal bacteria, E coli is the most common cause of urinary tract infection. (

The pool operations-- the cooling and water uptake-- can weaken the resistance of the mucous membranes of swimmers causing them to become more susceptible to pathogens in the pools. (

Adenovirus, a group of viruses, can infect the body membranes (tissue linings)including the membranes in the urinary tract. This virus can show up as the same sort of symptoms as a "regular" bacterial-caused urinary tract infection. (

The chlorine chemicals, apart from offering some protection from disease-causing bacteria, can themselves create health issues. The June 2003 issue of Occupational and Environmental Medicine talks about a layer of chlorine gas hovering just above the surface of the water that has the potential to damage lung tissue and cause asthma. Indoor pools with low ceilings pose the greatest risk.

Overall, it would appear that the chlorinated swimming pool is a rather hostile environment for swimmers, particularly those with compromised immune systems. If you have recurring urinary tract infections, the Women's Health site of the New York Times suggests that you avoid chlorinated pools altogether.

If you do intend to swim, check into the following recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control:

  • Swim earlier in the day and not when the water is cloudy in later afternoon and evening. You should be able to see to the bottom of the pool, and see the edges of the pool with water lapping over them as it is filtered.

  • The sides of the pool should not be tacky or sticky to the touch, but smooth.

  • There should not be a strong chlorine smell-- a strong smell means that other noxious chemicals are being produced

  • Keep your mouth closed.

  • Don't swim with diarrhea or any other infection, for that matter

  • Take a shower at home before swimming and bathe your children with particular attention to their bottoms. Change babies in bathroom change rooms and not beside the pool. Wear 'toddler swim diapers' on them. Make regular trips to the potty, whether they say they have to go or not.

  • The best cure is always prevention. If you have a strong immune system-- eat well, follow good hygiene routine, take care of yourself-- you can probably swim in your average chlorinated pool and have little more than red eyes to show for it.


    June Hubbard said...

    Who would have guessed Pooping in the water... Guess the clorine was (in days gone by) there to handle it all...People were getting sick but did not think of from where.. There was showers but did people use them or know why they were there. This is a well researched article and I would not go into a pool. And yss I would keep my mouth closed...Why bother..Just stay away...I have not been in one of those cesspools for many years..But mostly cause of the Bad taste of the chlorine and the sting it can bring to the eyes

    Cynthia Zirkwitz said...

    Thanks June for the comment! I agree with you-- hardly worth it. Still nice to swim but healthier in most unpolluted rivers and the ocean. I think there are probably some pools that are kept really clean, and I know that they do insist that people pre-shower, but the research says that it's because of improper hygiene, so would showering through a swimsuit change that? Not sure.

    CostSlam said...

    Once getting through the gross parts at the beginning of the article I noticed some good tips. One thing I noticed last winter when I was going to the indoor swimming pool, sauna, whirlpool I was getting sick. After reading this article I can see that pools can be the cause.

    Cynthia Zirkwitz said...

    Hi Costslam-- Hmm.. interesting that you can actually trace feeling ill after your last swims at an indoor pool. Something to think about for next winter's choice of activities, eh?

    Donna Joe said...

    Very interesting blog post! It certainly is educational and has taught me alot about safety. I will use this for the future when I work as a lifeguard at a pool.

    Cynthia Zirkwitz said...

    Thank you for your comments Donna Joe-- hope that inspite of the details of the chlorinated pool you are still gungho to lifeguard-- an important position in pools!

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