"Please shower before entering pool." "There is only one "p" in pool and we would like to keep it that way." You might have seen similar signs at your local pool. Humorous or not, these guidelines are intended to keep swimmers healthy. You may not have realized that your swimming hygiene habits, or lack thereof, might not only endanger the health of others, but might put you at an increased risk for developing recreational water illnesses, such as a urinary tract infection.
A UTI is an infection that starts in your urinary system, most commonly in your bladder and urethra. The urethra is the tube that connects your bladder to your genitals to excrete urine from your body. Women are anatomically more prone to developing UTIs than men. While urinary tract infections don't always cause symptoms, when present, symptoms may include a persistent urge to urinate, passing small volumes of urine frequently, a burning sensation when urinating, foul-smelling urine, cloudy urine, blood-tinged urine, pelvic pain in women and rectal pain in men.
Pools are full of germs caused by children and adults alike. Urine, fecal matter and vomit can all pose a health risk to swimmers. If disinfectant levels in pools are not maintained at the appropriate levels, germs can multiply and cause illness. Swallowing germ-infested water is not the only way your health can be threatened. Germs can harbor and thrive on your swimming suit, especially in your genital area. Women are especially prone, as a tight-fitting swimming suit that is warm and moist provides the perfect breeding ground for bacteria that can cause a urinary tract infection.
Often, girls prone to recurrent UTIs are told that they should not swim. This recommendation is based on the possibility that UTIs in girls are a result of vulvourethral reflux of pool water into the bladder. However, according to the American Family Physician website, a careful study of this possibility, using inulin as a tracer in bath water, failed to show inulin in bladder urine. These results suggest that there is no basis to recommend that girls eliminate swimming to prevent recurrent UTIs. Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center also claims that swimming in pools cannot directly cause UTIs in children. Some children, especially girls, have very sensitive skin in the area around the urethra, and exposure to pool water may irritate this area. However, exposure to pool water cannot in itself cause a UTI.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting into the habit of following these tips to decrease contaminants in pools. Before you enter a pool, shower with soap. Wash your child thoroughly, especially the rear end, with soap and water before swimming. Invisible amounts of fecal matter can end up in the pool. Wash your hands with soap after using the toilet or changing a diaper. If you or a child has diarrhea, don't swim. Take your kids on frequent bathroom breaks or check diapers often. Change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area and not at poolside (See Reference 4 for previous tips). If an accident does occur, alert pool employees so that the appropriate measures can be taken to decontaminate the pool. To specifically decrease your chances of developing a UTI, do not sit around in your potentially bacteria-ridden, wet suit all day. Change into dry clothes as soon as possible after swimming and wash your suit after every use.
If you suspect you have a UTI, see your doctor as soon as possible. If left untreated, a UTI can spread to your kidneys, causing serious problems. After analyzing a urine sample, your doctor may prescribe you an antibiotic. Your swimming hygiene habits might not be the cause of your UTI. Especially in women, sexual intercourse and sexually transmitted diseases may cause the two most common types of UTIS -- an infection of the bladder, or cystitis, and an infection of the urethra, or urethritis. Talk to your doctor to determine the likely cause of your UTI.
Is This an Emergency?
- MayoClinic.com: Urinary Tract Infection
- American Family Physician: Urinary Tract Infections in Children: Why They Occur and How to Prevent Them
- Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center: Questions & Answers About Urinary Tract Infections in Children
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Recreational Water Illness (RWI)