By Sharon Woods Harris

Pekin Daily Times

sharris@pekintimes.com

Safety in a swimming pool doesn’t just mean strapping wings on the little ones — check those diapers!

Parents often worry about the potential for drowning in pools, but a pool not maintained and treated properly with chemicals and swimmers who do not use proper hygiene and good sense create a risk for all, especially the very young, those with immune disorders and the elderly. In addition, people can become seriously ill if directions are not followed when treating pools with chemicals.

Seventy people have been reported in Illinois with pool related illnesses, though none in Tazewell County so far, said Dr. Michael Wahl, medical director for the Illinois Poison Control Center.

Most diarrhea germs are killed by the chemicals in a pool, but there is a parasite called Cryptosporidium that can survive for up to 10 days in treated water. It causes diarrhea that lasts from one to two weeks, said Wahl. There were 32 Cryptosporidium outbreaks linked to swimming pools or water playgrounds in Illinois in 2016, double the number reported in 2014.

“Crystosporidium is really hard to kill with chlorine,” said Wahl. “Those are the cases the Center for Disease Control has highlighted as having outbreaks with a lot of people being made ill.

“There isn’t really a whole lot to treat (the pool) with. People have to make sure their pools do not get contaminated. I was just up in Wisconsin for a short family weekend. All the bathrooms had signs saying that after using the toilet before you go back to the pool you have to take a shower. Take it seriously. It’s really for everybody’s protection. Cryptosporidium — people who are immunocompromised, people with aids, people with cancer, people who have had a transplant are much more susceptible.”

There are other water illnesses caused by germs in the water — other gastrointestinal illnesses, and skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections, said Dahl.

Dahl said people can be safer if they follow simple rules — avoid swimming if they have diarrhea, shower with soap before swimming to help remove germs that could contaminate the water, don’t swallow water, don’t sit on water jets, and take children and infants on bathroom breaks and check for dirty diapers every hour.

Pool chemicals can be dangerous to pool operators and swimmers if directions are not followed. If pool cleaner is ingested, touches the skin or is inhaled, it can cause medical problems such as organ failure, loss of vision, severe abdominal pain, low blood pressure or throat swelling. Nearly a dozen children at a waterpark in Northwest Indiana reported chemical burns after swimming at a waterpark possibly linked to too much chlorine in the water, according to an IPC press release.

Always use the correct amount of pool cleaner and other substances, handle and store pool cleaners as indicated on their packaging, and never mix chemicals because it can create toxic substances like chlorine gas. Small backyard pools and wading pools should be emptied daily because most people do not treat the water in them.

DragonLand Water Park in Pekin is packing in the swimmers this week with the 90-plus degree heat.

“We’ve been busy all week,” said Shawn Powers, Pekin Park District superintendent of recreation. “So the pools been full of kids, full of people — for sure.”

All health department rules are followed. There are signs on the doors and in the restrooms that tell people not to get into the pool with open wounds or if they have had diarrhea in the past 24 hours.

The Tazewell County Health Department inspects public pools several times during the swim season to check records and measure the chemicals in the water, said Powers. A trained technician keeps track of water treatment. If the levels are too high or too low, the DragonLand Water Park is closed until the numbers are back to safe levels. Powers said there have been no closures this year.

Powers said Tazewell County residents are lucky — the TCHD tests the pools. The Peoria Park District pools are tested only one time to get a certificate to open.

“I’m impressed,” said Powers of the work the TCHD does.

 If people suspect that they or someone they know has been exposed to a potentially harmful substance, call the IPC at 800-222-1222. The line is open 24 hours every day of the year. The call is free and confidential. For more information, visit the IPC’s website: illinoispoisoncenter.org. 

Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin