Swimming Pool Blog

Bacteria in Pools & Spas ~ There's a Fungus Amongus!

by Sean Griffin, October 29, 2009
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) documents thousands of cases of disease outbreak in pools and spas every year. Bacterial, viral, and Parasites can lead to hospitalization and in rare cases can cause death. Water is a breeding ground for bacteria and can support viruses and parasites long enough for them to enter your body through absorption, inhalation, and/or ingestion. 

The best way to combat these contaminants is monitoring water chemistry on a consistent basis and having sanitizer and sanitizing devices in place to destroy these hazards. Sanitizer is necessary for water maintenance but can be used in conjunction with mineral filters, ozone treatment, and ultra-violet (UV) treatment as an added layer of protection. For heavily used pool and spas, a bacteria test kit can be used that will inform you of any infestation in just 17 min.

There are a few different types of Bacteria found in pool and spas. All of them can make you sick. If conditions are right, these can even be fatal. Spas tend to harbor bacteria more easily than pools. Probably due to their high heat, and the small amount of water, with multiple users. How do these bacterium get into pools and spas? More ways than you can imagine. Small animals or insects can bring it in. Bathers that aren't so, uh...clean down there, and small children that just can't help it.

 -E. Coli-   
E. coli is the head of the large bacterial family, Enterobacteriaceae, the enteric bacteria, which are facultatively anaerobic Gram-negative rods that live in the intestinal tracts of animals in health and disease. E. coli can respond to environmental signals such as chemicals, pH, temperature, osmolarity, etc., in a number of very remarkable ways considering it is a unicellular organism. For example, it can sense the presence or absence of chemicals and gases in its environment and swim towards or away from them. Symptoms: Diarrhea, visceral disturbance
Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a common bacterium which can cause disease in animals and humans. It is found in soil, water, skin flora and most man-made environments throughout the world. It thrives not only in normal atmospheres, but also with little oxygen, and has thus colonized many natural and artificial environments. It uses a wide range of organic material for food; in animals, the versatility enables the organism to infect damaged tissues or people with reduced immunity. The symptoms of such infections are generalized inflammation and sepsis. If such colonizations occur in critical body organs such as the lungs, the urinary tract, and kidneys, the results can be fatal. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is very common in the environment and can be found on your skin but is usually not infective because the population of bacteria is small and your skin provides effective barrier against entry.
Legionnaires’ disease is caused by a bacterium called legionella pneumophilia, and people catch it by inhaling small droplets of infected water suspended in the air. Legionella is far greater as the water is hotter and the volume is smaller. To prevent it, apart from properly maintaining air-conditioning and industrial cooling systems, to which Legionnaires’ disease is linked, water must be treated and the system cleaned regularly. The bacterium normally lives in water, and the symptoms are similar to the flu.
Shigella are bacteria that can infect the digestive tract and cause a wide range of symptoms, from diarrhea , cramping, vomiting, and nausea, to more serious complications and illnesses. Infections, called shigellosis, sometimes go away on their own; in others, antibiotics can shorten the course of the illness. Other symptoms of shigellosis include: abdominal cramps, high fever, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and painful bowel movements.In very severe cases of shigellosis, a person may have convulsions (seizures), a stiff neck, a headache, extreme tiredness, and confusion. Shigellosis can also lead to dehydration and in rare cases, other complications, like arthritis, skin rashes, and kidney failure.
 -Campylobacter jejuni-
Campylobacter jejuni is a slender, curved, and motile rod. It is a microaerophilic organism, which means it has a requirement for reduced levels of oxygen. It is relatively fragile, and sensitive to environmental stresses (e.g., 21% oxygen, drying, heating, disinfectants, acidic conditions). Because of its microaerophilic characteristics the organism requires 3 to 5% oxygen and 2 to 10% carbon dioxide for optimal growth conditions. This bacterium is now recognized as an important enteric pathogen.
Before 1972, when methods were developed for its isolation from feces, it was believed to be primarily an animal pathogen causing abortion and enteritis in sheep and cattle. Surveys have shown that C. jejuni is the leading cause of bacterial diarrheal illness in the United States. C. jejuni infection causes diarrhea. Other symptoms often present are fever, abdominal pain, nausea, headache and muscle pain. The illness usually occurs 2-5 days after ingestion of the contaminated food or water. Illness generally lasts 7-10 days, but relapses are not uncommon (about 25% of cases).

If you operate a public pool or spa (or baby pool) - you may be required to test for bacteria regularly and submit testing reports to the local Health Department. Or if you're a little germaphobic (like me) - you can test your own water monthly to ensure no contamination. The watersafe bacteria test kit is recommended.

If you do find an infection, do a Google search to determine the best treatment for eradication. Generally speaking, if found in a spa, drain and clean the spa, soak the filter cartridge in a chlorine solution or replace it. After the spa is refilled, it would be a good idea to shock the spa with a granular chlorine product - bacteria can find a home in tiny crevices and in Biofilm, lining the pipes and other hidden areas. If testing finds bacteria in the pool, you don't need to drain it, and scrub it clean (i.e. Caddy Shack). Remove vomit or feces as quicklly as possible, (before it enters the filter system) - Balance the water and shock the pool good. If the contaminant entered the filter system, you may also want to change the filter media. Backwash thoroughly at the very least.

Here's to keeping our pool and spa users Healthy!