Can a dip in a public pool be hazardous?


August 20, 1991|By Dr. Gabe Mirkin

If you're concerned about getting AIDS, herpes or some other type of infection while visiting your local public swimming pool, here's some good news and some bad news.

There is no evidence that you can get AIDS or herpes from the specially treated, chlorinated or brominated water in swimming pools. You can get AIDS only from infected blood or semen or from being born to an infected mother. It is, however, possible to be infected with herpes if you sit with broken skin on an infected seat or on an infected side of a pool.

Studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health show that the herpes and AIDS viruses are killed almost instantly by chlorinated water. But the herpes virus can survive for up to 4 1/2 hours on spa benches, seats and the sides of a pool.

That doesn't mean you will get herpes by sitting on the virus. Your chances of contracting herpes that way are extremely remote. But to be safe, you can protect yourself by placing a dry RTC towel beneath you when you sit on a spa bench, seat or side of a pool.

Unfortunately, you can come into contact with other viruses when you go swimming. You can pick up the virus that causes painful plantar warts on the bottom of your feet by walking barefoot at the pool. To prevent these warts, wear sandals when you get out of the water.

Contaminated water in an improperly maintained hot tub can give you pseudomonas folliculitis. This causes small, itchy blisters and red spots at the base of some of the hairs on your body. The rash usually erupts anywhere between six hours and five days after you're exposed. Luckily, pseudomonas cannot live in chlorinated water.

Q: Why do we hiccup? What purpose, if any, does it serve?

A: When you are in your mother's womb, you need to hiccup. Once you are born, however, it's just a nuisance.

There are two tubes leading down your throat. One goes to your stomach, the other to your lungs. There's a cleverly designed trap door, called the glottis, covering the tube leading to the lungs. When you swallow, the glottis closes so that food and drink can't get into your lungs.

A hiccup happens when you try to bring air into your lungs while the glottis is closed. You try to get air into your lungs, but can't.

When you are in your mother's womb, you have to practice using your diaphragm so that you will be able to breathe when you are born. If you breathe when you are in the womb, you will fill your lungs with fluid and drown. So you hiccup to strengthen your diaphragm while keeping fluid from getting into your lungs.

Many mothers-to-be can feel their unborn babies hiccuping. They're just practicing how to breathe.

Q: My new apartment has an ion-exchange water filter hooked up to the kitchen faucet. Why would it be necessary? A friend says the water from such filters can be bad for your health.

A: An ion-exchange water filter can help if your drinking water feels and tastes soapy and doesn't get your dishes or clothes clean. Otherwise, you probably don't need it.

Hard water tastes and feels soapy and contains large amounts of calcium and magnesium. Soft water doesn't taste or feel soapy and contains mostly salt. Ion-exchange water filters convert hard water to soft water by removing the calcium and magnesium and replacing them with salt. This process improves both the taste of the water and its ability to wash dishes and clothing.

While soft water contains far less silicon, selenium and chromium than hard water, it is more acidic. This chemical makeup increases the amount of toxic minerals, such as lead and cadmium, that the soft water can absorb from the pipes that carry water.

However, water purifiers that convert hard water to soft water do not send the water through pipes. They send the water directly to your drinking glass. So there is no evidence that ion-exchange water purifiers are dangerous to your health.

For a free copy of the "Mirkin Report" on the latest breakthroughs in medicine, fitness and nutrition, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the Mirkin Report, P.O. Box 6608, Silver Spring, Md. 20916.

Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition. United Feature Syndicate

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