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Can swimming in a motel pool make you sick?

Many families are spending the extended holiday weekend at hotels and motels around the Louisville area. Weather permitting, some may enjoy taking a dip in the pool. But should they?

According to a 2018 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the 14-year period between 2000-2014, there were 493 infectious disease outbreaks that were reported involving "treated recreational water," i.e., pools and spas. The reports came from 45 states and the territory of Puerto Rico and affected 27,219 individuals. Eight people died as a result.

What was the culprit? In many cases, it was diarrhea. As disgusting as it sounds, feces is a frequent contaminant of pools and spas and usually comes from children and adults who swim or soak after an episode of diarrhea. As such, the CDC recommends that no one who is suffering from diarrhea swim in pools or use spas.

In 363 of the listed outbreaks, health officials determined that the offender was a microbe. Cryptosporidium, a frequent cause of diarrhea, was at fault in 89% of the cases, and nearly a third of the outbreaks, or 32%, happened in motels, hotels, inns and lodges.

How can guests protect themselves?

While the microbes themselves are invisible to the naked eye, other signs might indicate that the water isn't as clean as it should be. Pool water should be clear with the bottom clearly visible. Any cloudy, green or otherwise discolored water should be avoided.

Also, check out the handrails on steps and ladders. Do they appear to be rusty, dirty or slimy? They could reflect the overall cleanliness level of the pool.

Is the pool water circulating well? A sluggish pump or blocked filtration system can allow contaminants to backflow into the water.

Motel pools should be inspected and the water tested at least daily. There should be records to indicate that is being done and that the water quality is acceptable.

Pay attention to your fellow swimmers, especially young children. Kids too young to be toilet trained should be wearing swim diapers in the pool. If not, assume that they are at least peeing in the water.

If you or a family member gets sick after swimming in a contaminated hotel pool, it may be possible to hold the facility liable for your illness and other damages by filing a claim for damages.

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