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The summer heat and humidity have many going poolside to relax and cool off.

Even those without a pool are finding ways to get their fix in when most public pools are still closed. While some head to a friend’s place, others are “renting” a pool for the afternoon.

Pool rental app Swimply, which lauched in 2018, allows you to rent a pool from a nearby home. It’s grown in popularity during the pandemic since most public pools have been shut down.

Increasingly known as the “AirBnB” for pools, Swimply users can rent pools by the hour, a service that runs anywhere from $30 to $50 on average depending on where you’re located.

This means you get to enjoy a cool dip without having to take care of any pool maintenance.

Unfortunately, there’s a downside to this handy app. There are health risks involved in using other people’s pools, especially when COVID-19 is still a health concern.

Learn more below about how to stay safe while hitting the pool this summer, especially if you’re renting one.

Pools have always posed health risks, particularly in the spread of communicable diseases. This includes infections of the:

  • eyes
  • ears
  • nose
  • throat

Between 2015 and 2019, there were 208 outbreaks associated with recreational water use reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This included 2,492 cases of cryptosporidium, a microscopic parasite that causes diarrhea, and 65 outbreaks of Legionella, a bacteria that causes a pneumonia-like illness.

These outbreaks combined resulted in 13 deaths.

“Swimmers are at risk of recreational water illnesses (RWI) that can lead to skin and wound infection or irritation,” says Brad Greer, CEO of healthcare company DrySee.

As water accelerates the movement of germs and bacteria, there’s an increased risk of illness, especially to open wounds or cuts. Greer notes that various germs, chemicals, and bacteria in the body of water “can complicate and prolong the wound healing process”.

Common symptoms from recreational water illnesses include:

  • ear pain or infection
  • cough
  • congestion
  • eye pain or irritation
  • diarrhea
  • skin rashes

Nearly any kind of public body of water can be host to outbreaks. These include:

  • pools
  • aquatic centers
  • water playgrounds
  • spas
  • hot tubs

The CDC notes that disease outbreaks can be caused by both pathogens and chemicals within the water.

Germs are transmitted easily in pools, traveling in the water from person to person. Contaminated water can easily be swallowed or make contact with bodies.

If cleaning agents and chemicals like chlorine aren’t maintained to the right level, germs can reproduce and be transmitted. This can mean that pool-users get sick.

It’s important to put steps in place to lower your risk of illness while cooling off in the pool.

Being cautious not only protects you. It protects those around you too.

“Implementing safer swimming practices ensures that you and your loved ones are protected from these second-hand infections,” says Greer.

Here are some safety guidelines to follow before you hit the pool:

  1. Shower before and after you swim.
  2. Avoid swallowing water.
  3. Cover open wounds or cuts.
  4. Do your own health inspection.
  5. Don’t swim if you’re sick.
  6. Keep your ears dry.
  7. Take frequent bathroom breaks.

Shower before and after you swim

The best way to reduce the risk of illness is by reducing the amount of contamination in the pool. One way to do this is by showering before you get in.

Taking a shower before entering a swimming pool has been shown to reduce contamination by diminishing the number of microorganisms, sweat, and chemicals that transfer to the water.

It’s also a good idea to take a shower after a dip and use antibacterial soap to kill any germs on the body before they can result in disease.

Avoid swallowing any water

Every swimmer brings billions of microbes with them into the water. This includes — yep, pee and fecal matter.

On average, adults swallow 1 tablespoon of water for every 45 minutes of swimming. Given the microbes floating around, it’s enough to make you sick.

Kids are at a significantly increased risk, swallowing an average of 2.5 tablespoons per 45 minutes.

You can limit how much contaminated water is entering your body by keeping your mouth out of the water or at least avoiding swallowing any of it.

Cover and protect open wounds or cuts

“Covering open wounds with a durable bandage is important to prevent infection and promote the healing process of any wound,” says Greer.

Plus, germs or bacteria from open wounds can contaminate communal water and accelerate the movement of harmful pathogens. Properly covering up wounds protects everyone in the pool.

It’s important to get bandages that keep wounds dry and protected, such as DrySee’s waterproof bandages.

Do your own health inspection

Chlorine helps to keep a pool’s germs at bay. Before jumping into someone else’s pool, it’s a good idea to check the water chemical levels yourself.

This can be done with portable test strips, such as Varify Premium Pool and Spa Test Strips or JNW Direct Pool and Spa Test Strips, or a liquid testing kit, such as WWD POOL Swimming Pool Spa Water Chemical Test Kit.

Don’t go swimming if you’re sick

Help protect others by staying out of the pool if you’re feeling unwell. Any germs in or on your body can be transmitted to others.

This is especially important if you’ve been experiencing symptoms of diarrhea. The CDC recommends that if you’ve been diagnosed with Crypto (or Cryptosporidium), don’t swim until 2 weeks after symptoms have stopped.

Keep ears as dry as possible

It may be difficult to keep your ears completely dry, but doing so can help reduce your risk for contracting a disease-causing microorganism that could lead to developing an illness.

“Keep ears as dry as possible by utilizing swim caps, ear plugs, or proper sanitation processes post-swimming activities,” says Greer. “Bacteria and germs can enter the body through the ears, so it’s important to dry any excess moisture, especially in children.”

Take frequent bathroom breaks

It goes without saying: For good pool hygiene, there should be no peeing or pooping in the pool.

If there are any little ones around, it’s best to whisk them off to the bathroom every hour to help make sure no bodily fluids are coming out unintentionally.

“Practice good pool courtesy and take frequent restroom breaks to avoid bodily fluids from contaminating shared waters,” says Greer. “This transfer of fluids can lead to illness and infection of others.”

Heading to a friend’s pool, local aquatic center, water playground, or renting a pool is a great way to cool off in the summer heat.

However, jumping in can come with health risks, including potential of contracting an infectious agent and recreational water-related illnesses.

It’s important to take steps to keep you and those around you safe so everyone can enjoy keeping cool in the water.

Marnie Vinall is a freelance writer living in Melbourne, Australia. She’s written extensively for a range of publications, covering everything from politics and mental health to nostalgic sandwiches and the state of her own vagina. You can reach Marnie via Twitter, Instagram, or her website.