What No One Tells You About The Pool And How It Can Make You Sick

Swimming in a pool is a great way to exercise and have fun, but you could also contract some nasty illnesses. Although most pools are maintained by chemicals and hopefully scrubbed regularly, you can get sick from what swimmers bring to the pool party.

Viruses, bacteria, bodily fluids, and even sweat can introduce problems to swimmers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Here are all the ways you can get sick from swimming in a pool. (No one talks about the extremely terrifying way a pool can make you sick on page 11.

1. Swimmer’s ear

Cleaning a swimming pool

Bacteria thrives in pools. | l2egulas/iStock/Getty Images

  • Symptoms: itchiness, swelling, pain, redness

Water, combined with bacteria in the pool can irritate the ear canal, according to Reader’s Digest. Commonly called “swimmers ear,” water trapped in the outer ear canal can create a pretty uncomfortable situation. Obtaining a prescription from your doctor for eardrops can halt bacteria growth.

Next: When the hot tub isn’t such a hot idea.

2. Pus-filled rashes

hot tub

Relaxing in a hot tub isn’t so peaceful when you develop this rash. | irina88w/Getty Images

  • Symptoms: pus-filled blisters near hair follicles, itchiness, embarassment

Sliding into a hot tub after a long day at work sounds dreamy until you develop a pus-filled rash, Readers Digest reports. Caused by the bacteria Pseudomonas Dermatitis / Folliculitis, aka “hot tub rash,” isn’t serious, but it’s extremely annoying. You’ll typically find the pus-filled blisters around your hair follicles. Also, the rash tends to be more pronounced in areas your swimsuit covered.

Next: Hold the vomit.

3. E-coli infection

upset woman noticed foul smell of food from casserole

Contaminated food is the stereotypical way people think about e-coli. | JackF/Getty Images

  • Symptoms: stomach cramps, diarrhea (possibly bloody), vomiting

E-coli exposure usually occurs from consuming tainted foods. However, pools can harbor e-coli, too. In fact, almost 60% of public pools were contaminated, according to the CDC. Some e-coli infections are mild, but they can require medical attention or hospitalization. Most people improve within five to seven days after being infected.

Next: Are you vaccinated against this disease?

4. Hepatitis A

Woman relaxing in a pool

Don’t open your mouth underwater for any reason. | iStock.com/NinaMalyna

  • Symptoms: nausea, fatigue, vomiting

It sounds nuts, but you can contract hepatitis A virus from a pool, Reader’s Digest reports. You catch it the same way you get most illnesses in a pool — through accidentally swallowing water. While it is rare to contract hep A in a pool, it is important to know the signs. In addition to the symptoms above, you may feel pain or discomfort on the right side of your abdomen.

Next: Cruises are notorious for this virus.

5. Norovirus

Oasis of the Seas cruise ship

Before you know it, half of passengers are puking. | Baldwin040/Wikimedia Commons

  • Symptoms: stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea

It may not be safe to go in the water on that cruise you booked. While this bacteria can be found in any public pool, on land or at sea, you don’t want to mess around if you contract it. A highly contagious virus, according to the CDC, norovirus spreads when the infected person touches any surface, or thorough contaminated water or food.

Next: You may not have heard of this strain lurking in your pool.

6. Shigella


Shigella will give you the … runs. | seksan mongkhonkhamsao/getty Images

  • Symptoms: diarrhea, vomiting, fever, stomach cramping

Diarrhea and vomiting seem to be a running theme with illnesses you get from a pool. Being infected with the Shigella bacteria can do a number on your tummy, according to the CDC. Symptoms typically arrive about two days after infection and can last up to seven days. Fecal matter in the pool is one way Shigella can be transmitted.

Next: There’s a reason they close down the pool when this happens.

7. Bacteria from feces

Mother, father and daughter in swimming pool

No, that’s not a Baby Ruth candy bar at the bottom. | Halfpoint/Getty Images

Symptoms: watery diarrhea, vomiting, fever, nausea

Bottom line: Don’t poop in the pool. Formally called cryptosporidium, people can get sick from bacteria being present in water, according to the CDC. Symptoms may persist for up to two weeks in healthy individuals. However sometimes you can deal with the illness for up to 30 days with symptoms coming and going over days at a time.

Next: Just stay home if you’re vulnerable to this disease.

8. Legionnaires’ disease

Resort Private pool has weekly check maintenance test

You wouldn’t think you could get pneumonia from a pool. | JadeThaiCatwalk/Getty Images

  • Symptoms: coughing, shortness of breath, headaches, muscle aches

Contracting Legionnaires’ disease is possible from a pool, according to the CDC. You get sick by breathing or swallowing contaminated water or droplets, which can cause this severe form of pneumonia. While most people who are exposed don’t get sick, people who smoke, are over age 50, or have a weakened immune system should be on alert.

Next: No one talks about this terrifying way a pool can make you sick.

9. Flesh-eating disease

woman in swimming pool water

Horrifying but it could happen to you. | JaySi/Getty Images

  • Symptoms: fever, chills, fatigue, vomiting

While rare, you can contract a flesh-eating disease or necrotizing fasciitis from a pool or hot tub, according to the CDC. Those at risk have a cut or skin irritation that comes into contact with an infected body of water. Symptoms can be confusing and mimic other diseases. Regardless, this flesh-eating disease can be fatal if left untreated.

Next: Everyone is familiar with this summertime smell.

10. Chloramine irritation

Underwater shot of the swimming pool.

Not just a lingering smell on your skin | Tirachard/Getty Images

  • Symptoms: skin and eye irritation, skin problems, respiratory issues

Have you ever visited a public pool and thought it smelled over-chlorinated? It isn’t because the pool guy dumped too many chemicals in the pool. The smell results from free chlorine getting totally consumed with germs, such as urine, to the point where it no longer works. This forms a gas called chloramines, according to the CDC, which emits the smell and creates irritating symptoms.

Next: While not pool-related, you can get this serious illness from swimming.

11. The most serious illness you could get from swimming

family in swimming pool

Family in the pool | JaySi/Getty Images

  • Symptoms: high fever, headache, chills, vomiting, jaundice, red eyes, rash

While you can’t get this illness from a pool, you can contract leptospirosis from other bodies of water, according to the CDC. Swimming in contaminated lakes and rivers can cause this infection, which is possible for both humans and pets. Treatment requires antibiotics, sometimes given though an IV. And if you don’t address it, you could get meningitis or kidney and liver failure.

Next: This hazard is something all swimmers should keep in mind.

12. Life-threatening circumstances

Rubber ball in the pool

Avoid a freak accident. | Violetastock/Getty Images

While the kids may be anxious to jump into the hotel pool, check the drainage system first. Curious swimmers may dive down to grab a toy from the bottom of the pool and get caught in the drainage system, CBS News reports. Older pools have a single drain, which means stronger suction, making it easier to catch small fingers, toes, and hair.

While newer pool systems are equipped with multiple drains, which make them less powerful, inquire about the system before you swim. Some pools have a drain cover. Or you can locate the pool pump to turn off the system in case of an emergency.

Next: How can you avoid getting sick and still swim?

13. Check the water before you jump in

Man cleaning pool with a dog

You should clean your pool regularly. | iStock/Getty Imagse

Avoid any cloudy, discolored, or slimy water, according to Forbes. Steer clear if you can’t see to the bottom of the pool. Of course, if anything is floating in the water, you need to avoid it, too. You also want to check for water circulation. If you don’t see it properly circulating, sit out this swim.

Next: Kids commonly don’t know about this issue.

14. Bring your own drinking water

Swimming pool party

Don’t gulp the pool water if you can help it. | oneinchpunch/Getty Images

Sometimes it is tough to avoid getting water in your mouth. However, most of these pool-borne illnesses come from swallowing pool water. Talk to your kids about minimizing the amount of water they swallow. Also, pack fresh water whenever you visit a public pool. Even if you are cooling off in the pool, you can still get thirsty.

Next: These wives’ tales are totally false.

15. Common myths about pool diseases

happy friends drinking jumping in pool

No, you won’t get pregnant from swimming in a pool. | DisobeyArt/Getty Images

While it sounds like you catch basically everything in a pool, some communicable diseases just won’t spread while swimming in a public pool, according to the CDC. Head lice is unlikely to hop heads while in a pool. Even though pool chemicals won’t necessarily kill lice, it isn’t a favorable breeding ground for transmission. Also, MRSA does not survive for a long in water and pinworms are unlikely to be transmitted in a pool.

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