I don’t know about you, but when I come down with that sweet, sweet ’rhea, I need a few key things: privacy, a blanket, a couch, comfortable pants, a hydrating fluid, a little low-key TV, and a nearby, well-stocked bathroom. This is not, apparently, the preference of a portion of the general American public, who, when hit with the shits, immediately cannonball into the nearest public swimming pool.
But since it’s Healthy and Safe Swimming Week, and the CDC has yet again reminded us that swimming and diarrhea don’t mix, that means it’s time for a diarrhea come to Jesus. So let us gently suggest that next time you furiously shit your guts out, stay clear of the pool for two weeks. Do it for your country. Do it for the children. Do it for your butthole, and the buttholes of complete strangers you care little about.
In the CDC’s report, Outbreaks Associated with Treated Recreational Water — United States, 2000–2014, we learn that that over the last some 15 years, there have been over 500 cases of outbreaks involving “treated recreational water” (aka, swimming pools, hot tubs, water playgrounds) that led to over 27,000 cases of illness and eight deaths. Murder by diarrhea is no way to go friend, and you’d think one warning is all we’d need. Yet, another CDC report documenting cases through 2017 found that cases linked to one parasite in particular, Cryptosporidiosis, have doubled. Here’s the diarrhea low-down:
Among the 363 outbreaks with a confirmed infectious etiology, 212 (58%) were caused by Cryptosporidium (which causes predominantly gastrointestinal illness), 57 (16%) by Legionella (which causes Legionnaires’ disease, a severe pneumonia, and Pontiac fever, a milder illness with flu-like symptoms), and 47 (13%) by Pseudomonas (which causes folliculitis [“hot tub rash”] and otitis externa [“swimmers’ ear”]). Investigations of the 363 outbreaks identified 24,453 cases; 21,766 (89%) were caused by Cryptosporidium, 920 (4%) by Pseudomonas, and 624 (3%) by Legionella. At least six of the eight reported deaths occurred in persons affected by outbreaks caused by Legionella.
Most of these cases were at hotels, and most of them were between June and August, what you might call Peak Shit-in-Pool Season. Swallowing the water (that’s where you and your children come in!) completes the fecal-oral transmission, infecting the swallower for a couple of weeks. Then, you take it to the streets, and your children take it daycare or school, where other people then get diarrhea, too. We know what happens next: those people probably hightail it immediately to the nearest swimming pool with their anal leakage trailing behind, making the diarrhea ouroborus complete.
What’s more, the CDC believes these numbers underestimate the problem, because it’s difficult to report this stuff (people probably don’t get sick until later, and may not make the connection that it happened at the pool, much less notify the establishment), and the requirements of reporting this stuff varies across jurisdictions.
This isn’t theoretical physics, folks. It’s diarrhea physics. What goes in, must come out, and what comes out, must infect. This is why, according to the CDC and also human logic, “diarrhea and swimming don’t mix.”
Not to be contrarian, but I bet if you asked diarrhea, it would tell another story. Diarrhea would say it mixes astonishingly well with swimming. So well that it’s pathogens are able to multiply and spread in spite of chlorine’s best efforts, so much so that even a single mouthful of diarrhea water will make a person sick for weeks. Diarrhea, in other words, is acting exactly right. The real question here, then, is why we aren’t.
I guess it’s also not entirely our fault. The CDC’s own inspections of pools, spas and hot tubs found that some 20 percent of these places don’t maintain the proper concentration of disinfectants that would greatly reduce these instances. If they aren’t going to do the thing that kills the things, then don’t go trying to blame us, mister!
Just kidding, we can also blame ourselves. All we have to do is not get into a pool with active diarrhea, and then not get into a pool for two weeks after D Day. Here is their brilliant two-pronged strategy for avoiding domestic diarrhea water terrorism:
Part 1: Don’t swim with diarrhea
Part 2: Don’t swallow the water
If you forget, when you get to the pool, you will usually see a helpful reminder that says “don’t swim or let your kids swim if sick with diarrhea,” and that everyone must shower before entering the pool.
Let’s do that.
But we’re only human, and cold water on a burning anus probably feels pretty darn refreshing. Adults on vacation are not going to let a little diarrhea get in the way of ordering that Mai Tai in the swim-up bar at the pool in Cabo or whatever. Plus, if you have kids, you can’t be rearranging your whole life around their diarrhea. You already booked a pool party for this weekend or a playdate with Grandma. Life must go on, mad shits or not, amirite? If you felt better, most people would hit up a pool same-day or in a few hours. As a friend said in response to the study, “I wouldn’t be like, ‘Well, I had diarrhea 13 days ago, I shouldn’t swim!’”
Another theory is that maybe we’re getting a lot more diarrhea than we admit, or than the medical field knows, on account of our shitty diets and generally toxic lifestyles. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, adults get the trots about once a year, and young children get the runs, on average, about twice a year.
If that were true, there would only be like a month out of a year you couldn’t go swimming. It would be pretty easy to not go to the pool twice a year. But reality suggests otherwise. And if you think about it, pretty much everything causes diarrhea now. You name it, and you can be sure that it gives someone somewhere the raging shits.
A few things that cause diarrhea:
· Cold brew
· Cold-pressed juice
· Just thinking about cold brew
· Two bowls of chili
· Bud Light
Lots of other things can cause diarrhea: an infection from bacteria or a virus, taking antibiotics (which has led to an increase in diarrhea-related deaths in this country), PMS, food allergies or intolerances, IBS or Crohn’s, spicy foods, garlic, onions, cauliflower, and so on. Children in particular can get a lot of diarrhea because they’re always jacked up on sugary fruit juice. They call it Toddler’s Diarrhea.
That said, even if we are all shitting more than normal, and that shit is watery, and we are also very busy, then it’s even more critical that we do so only in approved water-filled containers. There is only one. It is called a toilet. Shit in that, not the pool, freaks. Use your diarrhea like the rest of us do: a personal spa day at home.