The media is all abuzz about a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control that shows that Recreational Water Illness (RWI’s) are on the rise in American pools and spas.
Since 2010, a National Outbreak Notification System (NORS) has been established that allows public pool and spa operators to voluntarily report any outbreak of water related illness.
For the 2011-2012 reporting period, NORS has documented 1300 RWI’s in public pools and spas, with 75 hospitalizations and one reported death. Over half of the illnesses were caused by Cryptosporidium, or Crypto as it is more ominously known. Pseudomonas accounted for the majority of other illnesses.
What Causes Recreational Water Illness?
Where does it come from – it comes from bathers! Mostly from unwashed behinds, or from “accidental fecal release” of those infected with the parasite. Very tiny amounts of poop from an infected person can infect others – who accidentally drink the water, or absorb it into their eyes or open sores.
Crypto and other pathogens are not only found in human and animal stools, but can also be found in soil, food and on unclean surfaces. It can enter the spa in more ways than just the backside of an infected person. The CDC estimates that 750,000 Americans are infected each year with Cryptosporidium.
Why Doesn’t Chlorine Kill Crypto?
Usually it does, but cryptosporidium has the ability to cloak itself from low levels (1-3 ppm) of chlorine or bromine. And if the pool or spa has high pH and/or a high level of chloramines – it becomes a very weak sanitizer, not strong enough to kill all pathogens. For this reason, the CDC recommends supplemental sanitation by Ozone or UV light systems, for pools or spas that have a high risk or history of infection.
Reducing Recreational Water Illness Risks
- Shower with soap before using a pool or spa
- Do not use a pool or spa if you’ve had recent diarrhea
- Maintain spa bromine at 3-5 ppm, and use Ozone or UV
- Balance the pH and shock the spa after each use
- Keep your head above water and don’t drink the water
- Limit spa sessions to 15 minutes
Is Your Hot Tub – Infected with Crypto?
It could happen, all it takes is one infected person who hasn’t showered to infect a spa or hot tub. The data collected by the CDC is entirely gathered from Public pools and spas, not residential – but a residential spa can become infected just as easily – all you need is an unclean bather, insufficient sanitation and poor water balance.
But I don’t mean to scare you – I would estimate that 90% of well-maintained residential spas are pathogen-free. When in doubt, shock the spa or change the water!