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Pool potties: Babies should be banned from public pools

Published March 10, 2008 12:28 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Department of Health has reached a compromise in its attempt to keep toddlers in public swimming pools, and the cryptosporidium parasite out.

Under proposed rules being floated by the department, babies will be allowed to swim if they wear tight-fitting swim diapers and/or waterproof pants.

Normally, compromise is a good thing. But not in this case. Not when the compromise might compromise the public health.

Last year, there were 1,949 confirmed crypto cases in Utah, up from an average of 14. Dozens of persons were hospitalized with severe diarrhea. Nearly 90 percent of the cases were linked to recreational swimming.

The parasite is spread via fecal-oral contact. Contaminated feces finds its way into the water, often from babies wearing diapers that claim to be leakproof but aren't. The water gets into your mouth, and the parasites, resistant to chlorine at ordinary levels, party hearty in your intestinal tract.

Last year, after the outbreak, the state health department banned children under age 5 from public pools. It was a tough decision. But it was the right decision.

This year, federal health officials are warning that another outbreak is likely. But state health officials are reluctant to put a preventive baby ban in place.

Swim diaper requirements will be difficult to enforce. And, unless the diapers and "waterproof" pants have elastic bands that are tighter than tourniquets, water-soluble fecal matter will still leak out.

Public education won't work either. It might keep adults from spreading the parasite by showering thoroughly and abstaining from swimming after battling diarrhea, but nothing, short of a cork or maybe duct tape, will keep babies from pooping in pools.

We understand why the health department is hesitant to ban babies. Swimming is a big part of growing up. Learning to swim at a young age can prevent drownings. Older siblings will suffer if Mom and Dad can't take toddlers to public pools. Recreation departments will lose revenue. Plus, taxpayers have made a big investment in swimming facilities, and citizens large and small have a right to use them.

But citizens also have a right to swim in parasite-free public pools. And state and local health departments have a responsibility to protect citizens from waterborne illnesses.

If state regulators don't have the intestinal fortitude to ban babies from pools, local health departments should.




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