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That Hotel Pool Could Make You Sick

A new CDC report links hotel pools and hot tubs with several serious illnesses

En español | Like an extra glass of wine or potato chips, you can now add “hotel hot tub” to the list of things you used to enjoy — and now wonder if you shouldn’t. This is thanks to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released today showing that hotel hot tubs and pools account for 1 in 3 swimming-related disease outbreaks.

Of all the disease-causing germs spread in treated water, the big one is the Crypto parasite, which was responsible for 89 percent of the 24,453 illnesses caused by infection tracked from 2000 to 2014. And while hotel pools and hot tubs were the top source of it, the spread of Crypto isn’t necessarily the proprietor’s fault.

That's because this kind of parasite is tough enough to survive even in properly maintained pools. Crypto spreads when someone who is sick with the parasite has diarrhea in the pool and other swimmers swallow the contaminated water. Swimmers and parents of young swimmers, the agency advises, play an essential role in preventing Crypto outbreaks.

“Swallowing just a mouthful of water with Crypto in it can make otherwise healthy kids and adults sick for weeks with watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting,” said Michele Hlavsa, chief of CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program. “Chlorine cannot kill Crypto quickly. We need to keep it out of the water in the first place. Don’t go into the water, and don’t let your kids go into the water, if sick with diarrhea.”

The other two illness-causing bacteria in pools do have something to do with maintenance. One of them, Legionella, which causes severe pneumonia and symptoms similar to the flu, is more likely to make people over age 50 sick, as well as those who are current or former smokers, or those with a weakened immune system.

Along with Legionella, the bacteria Pseudomonas, which causes a skin irritation known as hot-tub rash as well as swimmer’s ear, thrives in slimy areas of a pool or water playground. The slime, called biofilm, protects them from disinfectants. The key to preventing diseases from these two germs, the CDC says, is for a hotel, along with any public or private pool operators, to make sure their disinfectant levels prevent bacteria — and the slime it creates — from growing in the first place.

Especially if you’re over age 50, the agency recommends that you let your doctor know about any possible exposures to Legionella, including recent use of a hot tub, if you come down with anything resembling flu symptoms this summer.

More on Germs and Bacteria

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