Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of the summer, and with it, the opening of the community pool. Every summer, questions regarding hepatitis B and the public pool are asked. Typically it is those that are infected, or have children that are infected with HBV, that have concerns. Hepatitis B is 100 times more infectious than HIV. Does that mean you should be worried about contracting or spreading a blood borne pathogen like hepatitis B at the community pool? Personally I don’t believe so, but there are a couple of things to consider.
If you’re concerned about a blood spill in the pool water than do not worry. As long as you are frequenting a well-maintained pool that follows guidelines for consistently monitoring chlorine and pH levels in the pool, you’ll be fine.
Use common sense when at the pool. Check that the water is clear, and the sides aren’t slimy. If the odor of your pool is too strong, something may be off. Speak with management if you have concerns. Pool staff are responsible for keeping water safe. There are strict guidelines that must be followed. Still have doubts? Purchase your own pool test strips to confirm disinfecting quality of the pool.
Blood spills on the deck are a plausible transmission route for blood borne pathogens like HBV, but this hazard can be readily averted with proper cleanup. Chlorine is a very effective agent against hepatitis B and other pathogens. When made fresh and used in the correct concentrations, (nine parts water to one part chlorine) it kills pathogens like HBV. As a team manager of a neighborhood swim team, I found the lifeguard slow to clean up a blood spill on deck. The protocols are in place, but everyone needs to be vigilant to ensure they are followed. If you have HBV and are bleeding on deck, don’t be afraid to insist that the blood spill be properly disinfected. There’s no need to disclose your status. These are standard precautions that should be followed for all blood and other body fluid spills.
The big culprit at the pool is swimmers with diarrhea. Diarrhea causing germs may survive even in a well-maintained pool. Chlorine resistant Cryptosporidium, also known as “Crypto”, is one such microbe. One inadvertent gulp of contaminated pool water and it’s possible you, too, will contract diarrhea. The good news is HBV is not spread via contaminated water, or the oral-fecal route. Know the ABC’s of viral hepatitis! Keep little ones out of the pool if they have diarrhea, make frequent swim-diaper changes, and don’t count on the plastic swim pants to keep everything in. Oh, and don’t let the kids drink the pool water. Parents, good luck with that one!
There are legitimate dangers lurking at the pool – a recent recall on pool drain covers jeopardize the safety of children, the risk of drowning and injury always exists, and of course there’s the risk of diarrhea causing illnesses. Fortunately the odds of transmitting or contracting HBV are infinitesimal in a well maintained pool. As always, remember that HBV has a safe and effective vaccine. Be sure those you know and love are vaccinated.
Beat the heat at your neighborhood pool this summer. And finally, if your public pool looks like this… well, common sense would tell you there’s a lot more to worry about than hepatitis B!