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Why swimming can make you sick

February 23, 2010

Next time you take a dip in your local pool, close your eyes and picture a giant Petri dish. Not so refreshing, is it?

Like it or not, pools, rivers and lakes can be packed with nasty bacteria… and a new study out of Australia shows just what you risk when you take that dip.

The researchers found that swimmers had a 25 percent higher risk of gastroenteritis–better known as stomach flu–in the week or so following a splash in their local pool. And people who take their chances in rivers, lakes and the ocean are 77 percent more likely to get intimate with their toilets in the week following their swim sessions.

And if you think chlorine is the answer, think again. Not only is this toxin bad for your body, it’s also not a kill-all for germs. Some bacteria, like Cryptosporidium, can survive for days in a chlorinated pool.

The worst part of all is that the bacteria most likely to survive that chlorine assault are the ones that enter the pool through the rear exit… of your fellow swimmers. That’s right–the bacteria that live in fecal material.

Anyone who has or recently had diarrhea could be these oozing nasty germs. Anyone who’s changed a diaper between dips and jumped back in without washing could also be spreading them (and let’s face it–that’s something you see all the time poolside).

At the end of the day, your local pool is only as clean as the filthiest person who paddled into it. And I don’t know if you’ve been people-watching at the poolside lately, but some of these folks are in pretty bad shape.

They contaminate the water… then all it takes is a little splash in the mouth or eyes for the bacteria to win their own version of a swimming medal: a brand-new human host.

This isn’t just a problem in far-away Australia–it’s an issue here, too. One U.S. survey last year found that nearly half of all people who enter public pools admit to some pretty gross behavior.

For example, 17 percent say they’ve urinated in the pool, and a third say they don’t shower before swimming.

These are the ones who admit to this, mind you. The real number is probably higher–much higher.

And you want to swim with these people?

Do yourself a favor–take up biking instead.

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