When it comes to swimming outdoors most people aren’t thinking about germs. After all, going for a swim in the local lake or river has gained tremendous popularity in recent years. For many, the allure of swimming outdoors provides the opportunity to bask in the sunshine, breathe in fresh air, and immerse oneself in the tranquil surroundings of the great outdoors. Aside from the locale, swimming outdoors also offers stress relief, the release of endorphins, calorie burning, and muscle exercise.
However, along with the joys of swimming in natural waters come inherent dangers. Unlike swimming pools, where conditions are carefully controlled, outdoor bodies of water pose unique risks. Swimmers are more vulnerable to tides, currents, and swells, which can be unpredictable and powerful. Additionally, the water may harbor hidden perils in the form of harmful bacteria and bugs. In certain areas, untreated sewage finds its way into rivers, lakes, and seas, making it challenging to find a safe spot for a refreshing dip.
One of the significant differences between swimming in a pool and swimming in natural waters is the level of water monitoring. Pools undergo regular testing and treatment to maintain cleanliness, whereas the composition of outdoor waters is constantly changing. Chemicals can leach into natural waters from nearby farms or industrial areas, and animals may defecate in the water, further increasing the risk of contamination. Moreover, the presence of toxic agents may not be readily apparent, and there might be no signposts warning of local dangers. When in doubt about the chemical safety of outdoor waters, it is better to err on the side of caution and avoid entering them. Trusting one’s instincts is crucial— if the water appears or smells off, it is wise to steer clear.
Which Has More Germs a Natural Body of Water or a Swimming Pool?
In terms of swimming and germs, bacteria and viruses are the biggest risks. It’s a fact that swimming in natural waters is associated with a higher likelihood of contracting illnesses such as diarrhea. Sewage contamination is a common culprit, and swallowing contaminated water exposes swimmers to bacteria and viruses such as E. coli, Norovirus, and Shigella. Germs that cause other RWI’s include Naegleria fowleri and Pseudomonas. Additionally, rodents living in sewers near freshwater rivers or canals can carry the bacterial pathogen Leptospira, which causes Leptospirosis or Weil’s disease. The infection can occur when a swimmer ingests soil or water containing urine from infected animals or when it enters their eyes or a cut. Leptospirosis can lead to liver and kidney damage and, if left untreated, can be fatal. Swimmers can develop flu-like or jaundice symptoms within two weeks of swimming in a river, lake, pond, or other natural body of water.
Pools Are Far From Germ-Proof
This is not to say that swimming pools are necessarily germ-proof, quite the contrary, far from it. The primary cause of RWI’s (recreational water illness) in both treated and untreated swimming locations shared a common source: fecal matter, particularly human feces. Most germs responsible for these infections are transmitted through the fecal-oral route. In this process, an infected person swims in the water, and the pathogens are released from their anus into the water. Subsequently, another individual may swallow the contaminated water or inhale aerosolized droplets containing the pathogens.
For example, approximately 80% of illnesses contracted from treated water were attributed to Cryptosporidium, a parasite that resides in animal intestines and spreads by being excreted through feces into water sources. Although the illnesses resulting from untreated water were more diverse, the primary culprits still originated from fecal matter. Norovirus, a highly contagious virus transmitted through vomit and feces, accounted for about 30 percent of all cases. Additionally, the most common bacterial infection, Shigella, spreads through diarrhea.
While chlorine can effectively control many other pathogens that cause illnesses in pools and spas, Cryptosporidium can survive in chlorinated water for an extended period, surpassing a week. This prolonged survival allows the parasite to spread easily among swimmers in the contaminated water and subsequently infect others who come into contact with that water. Such scenarios contribute to the occurrence of outbreaks and the rapid transmission of the parasite.
Considering all these factors, it becomes evident that, despite occasional instances of urine and feces in pools, managed swimming pools still provide a much safer environment for swimming. When it comes to germs, pools with proper maintenance, including chlorine disinfection and pH regulation, are significantly less likely to harbor infectious microorganisms. Furthermore, the presence of trained lifeguards and safety equipment in pools reduces the risks of injuries and drowning incidents.
While swimming in natural bodies of water offers a captivating and immersive experience, it comes with inherent risks due to the presence of potentially harmful microbes and unpredictable water conditions. Swimming pools, on the other hand, provide a controlled and sanitized environment for recreational swimming. Therefore, when it comes to ensuring safety, managed swimming pools offer a more reliable option. They undergo regular monitoring and treatment, reducing the likelihood of waterborne illnesses and providing a safer space for swimmers. So, while the allure of swimming in a natural body of water is undeniable, it’s important to weigh the risks and take necessary precautions to ensure a pleasant and safe swimming experience.