COVID Update: Masks are still required in health care settings, even if you’re fully vaccinated. Read our FAQs.

Check Your Pool: Prevent Recreational Water Illnesses

Proper maintenance prevents water contamination and illnesses

A mother and her daughter playing in the pool and smiling enjoying the Summer fun.

Proper maintenance prevents water contamination and illnesses

It doesn’t get much better than a nice dip in the pool on a hot summer day. But if that pool isn’t properly cared for, you may be in for a lot more than you bargained for. 


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an entire section on its website dedicated to the illnesses that may result from contact with contaminated water. Most often, appropriate disinfection with chlorine or bromine ensure that pool water is safe. But when the water isn’t properly maintained, the risk for health issues, such as skin rashes, diarrhea and infection, increases. 


Some expert advice from John Dawkins, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Clinic Del Mar, will help you stay pool smart this summer. 

Showering before and after

One of the most effective ways to protect yourself happens outside of the pool. Showering after a swim makes sense because it removes bacteria and other potentially hazardous substances that may be in the water, but what about before? A survey by the Water Quality & Health Council found that more than 40 percent of people don’t. 


“Rinsing off both before and after does a lot of good protecting you, and others, against harsh pool chemicals or any impurities that may be in the water,” Dr. Dawkins says.


Also, before you cannonball in, notice what your nose is telling you. If there’s a strong smell, the water has been improperly treated. “A misconception is that chlorine has a strong scent,” Dr. Dawkins says. “Once it’s dissolved in the pool, the smell of chlorine should be very subtle.”

Check your pool

Pool test strips, commonly found at pool supply and big box stores, can confirm whether something’s amiss. Consider the clarity of the water, too. If you notice any murkiness or can’t see the bottom clearly, it may be a good idea to skip swim time. 


There could also be nasty bugs lurking just below the surface. Cryptosporidum is a chlorine-tolerant parasite spread by swallowing water contaminated with fecal matter. Infected swimmers can be left with diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting for up to two weeks, according to the CDC. 


If you’re hosting at your own pool, ensure that toddlers in diapers or anyone who has recently had diarrhea stays out of the water, and take kids for frequent bathroom breaks.

San Diego Health June 2021 Issue

This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.