Recently, my family took a trip to the public pool.
It was great! They have a slide, which the kids used for hours. Me and my girlfriends did some sunbathing. The boys played volleyball. The pool was crowded with kids and adults, and everyone had so much fun! We were there for about 3 hours.
It wasn’t until we were driving home that somehow, the following question was asked, by an 11-year-old, no less:
“Can you get the HIV/AIDS virus from swimming in a public pool with someone else who is infected with the virus? For instance, what if that person has an open sore and someone swallows the pool water?”
It was the age old question, posed once again.
The discussion in the car around this topic was very interesting. At first the adults were like, “No, of course not! Don’t even worry about it.”
Can you guess what happened next? It was 1 am, and I was on the internet, querying the heck out of that very question.
The truth is, I’d never really thought about it.
I thought the answer would be super to-the-point basic, ie. a resounding NO. But once I started reading…I was down the rabbit hole and researching like a mad-woman.
Why is it that every time I try to research medical info online, it always feels like I have every symptom of every disease ever?
Anyway, I pressed on, searching for the answer to whether you can get HIV from swimming in a public pool.
Table of Contents For This Article:
- Germs in the Public Pool
- The Short Answer
- The Long Answer
- HIV Cannot Be Transmitted By
- HIV Can Be Transmitted By
- Chlorine and HIV
- How Is HIV Transmitted In The First Place?
- Full Disclosure – Confession Time
Here’s what I learned, and I hope it helps anyone who reads this to feel better about this topic.
Germs In The Public Pool
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aka the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/), studies have shown that 1 in 12 pools, including public pools, contain parasites that can affect you.
And these diseases are often transmitted from people swallowing this pool water, which can contain traces of feces and urine of other pool-goers.
How lovely! This made me want to get right back over to that public swimming pool and do some laps.
So, it seems fair that someone would ask the question if the HIV / AIDS virus can exist and be transmitted in this relatively unsanitary environment.
Maybe you already were in the pool, and thought of this after. Maybe, like me, you tossed and turned all night wondering about this. Oh goodie – not fun!
The Short Answer
After I did some more reading, I learned that the short answer to my question of whether HIV / AIDS can survive in the public pool was this:
Bottom line: HIV can’t survive outside the body, therefore, it can’t spread through water, or air for that matter, and therefore it can’t spread from one person to another in a swimming pool.
The Long Answer
I was fairly satisfied with this answer…until I wasn’t, and decided to do some more research.
According to acnl.net, a peer support network for people with HIV and AIDS, they say:
“HIV is very fragile, and many common substances, including hot water, soap, bleach and alcohol, will kill it. Air does not “kill” HIV, but exposure to air dries the fluid that contained the virus, and that will destroy or break up much of the virus very quickly.”
That’s good to know, I thought, but then I was wondering, literally, how long can the HIV / AIDS virus last outside of the body?
According to aidsmap.com , which is a knowledge base for HIV and AIDS related information, they say the following:
“In certain conditions, the virus can survive outside the body for several weeks. Survival depends on which body fluid it is in, volume of the body fluid, concentration of the virus within it, temperature, acidity, and exposure to sunlight and humidity. HIV transmission has not been reported as a consequence of contact with spillages of blood, semen or other body fluids.”
Ok, great. But I was still not convinced that public pools were 100% safe in terms of not catching this deadly virus.
I asked myself, “Ok, but what about HIV / AIDS surviving specifically in pool water? Can the virus be transmitted that way?”
This seems like a fair question to me, considering all of the people swimming in public pools with potentially open cuts, or maybe a bloody nose. Or even just their saliva could do it, couldn’t it?
According to Dr. Bob on thebody.com, he says:
“The only way you could contract HIV in that pool would be by having unsafe sex with an HIV-positive hunky lifeguard.”
Haha, good one Dr. Bob. Then I thought: “So… does that mean if I have sex in the water with someone, I’ll get HIV / AIDS? How does this work?” (Not saying I have any underwater sex, but still…)
Again, we refer to thebody.com, which states:
“Even if an infected person had a cut, the blood in the pool water wouldn’t last long and therefore would not cause you to become infected with the virus. The virus is unable to survive in pool water and is therefore there have been no reported cases of HIV transmission from pools or hot tubs.”
avert.org states this, which is very helpful as well:
HIV cannot be transmitted by:
Surfaces – HIV cannot be transmitted by contact with toilet seats, eating utensils, musical instruments, hugs or handshakes.
Air – Breathing the same air as someone living with HIV does not transmit HIV. Coughing, sneezing or spitting cannot transmit HIV either.
Kissing – Saliva contains very small amounts of HIV and so the risk is negligible unless both partners have large open sores in their mouth or bleeding gums.
Insect bites – Insects such as mosquitoes don’t transmit HIV because they do not inject blood when they bite.
Sterile needles – Sterilized or new needles and syringes are safe from HIV transmission. Do not share used needles.
Water – HIV cannot survive in water, so you are free from HIV transmission in swimming pools, baths or shower areas.
HIV can be transmitted by:
Vaginal sex – HIV can be transmitted from woman to man or vice versa. Open cuts and sores increase the risk.
Anal sex – Higher risk than vaginal sex because the lining of the anus is more likely to tear, creating an entry point for HIV.
Oral sex – Has a very small risk, but only if there are sores in/around the mouth or on the receiving partner’s genitals.
Injecting drugs – Shared unsterilized equipment can carry infected blood. Needles used for tattooing and body piercing can also carry a small risk.
Blood transfusions/transplants – All donated blood should be tested for HIV; any untested blood carries a risk of HIV transmission to the patient receiving the blood transfusion.
Mother-to-child – Transmission can occur during pregnancy, labour, delivery or breastfeeding if HIV treatment is not taken correctly.
Reading this made me feel A LOT better about our recent trip to the public pool. However, I was already wide awake, and I didn’t feel like I was quite finished. Call it paranoia, call it what you want. I had to keep digging.
Chlorine and HIV
Now, basically ALL public pools need to use chlorine to stay clean, right? So, what exactly is chlorine?
According to chlorine.americanchemistry.com:
“Chlorine is a naturally-occurring chemical element, one of the basic building blocks of matter. Scattered throughout the rocks of Earth’s continents and concentrated in its salty oceans, chlorine is an essential nutrient for plants and animals.”
I said to myself, “Ok, fine! But what does it do? How is it used in pools?”
According to education.jlab.org:
“Chlorine is commonly used as an antiseptic and is used to make drinking water safe and to treat swimming pools. Large amounts of chlorine are used in many industrial processes, such as in the production of paper products, plastics, dyes, textiles, medicines, antiseptics, insecticides, solvents and paints.”
I knew that, more or less. Of course, chlorine is in public pools. Got it. But how much chlorine do public pools use?
Well, it depends on the size of the pool, doesn’t it?
Therefore, the better question is: how much chlorine should a public pool have?
Let’s look at the minimum requirement for any pool, according to bioguard.com.au:
“Your pool needs a minimum concentration of 1ppm and up to a max of 4ppm of chlorine, so you don’t have to worry about stinging eyes or excessive bacteria growth! Where you sit within the range will depend on the temperature, whether you have an indoor or outdoor pool and your current stabiliser levels – if you aim for 3ppm during hot weather you are doing well.”
Ok, great. Now, let’s assume your local public pool uses the correct amount of chlorine to keep it clean. The next question is – does chlorine kill HIV / AIDS?
We found this answer on Quora, by a guy named Matt Puzzuti:
I even tracked Matt Pizzuti down on LinkedIn here, just to make sure he’s a real guy and not some Internet scammer.
So, it seemed like Matt was saying that in order for HIV to make it into my bloodstream through pool water, which is chlorinated, it would need to pass through someone’s body cavity (mouth, and so forth) via blood, and then survive the chlorine long enough to get into my body cavity. Doesn’t seem likely to me.
How Is HIV Transmitted In The First Place?
But that got me wondering – how is HIV passed on in the first place? Turns on I didn’t know, so back to the internet I went.
How is HIV passed between one person and another? Didn’t I learn this in health class? Apparently, I forgot!
So, then I came across CDC.gov again, which said the following in this article about transmission of the HIV / AIDS virus:
This had me picturing me and my kids in the pool, diving under the water and swallowing water that had touched someone elses’ diseased membrane. AHHHH! Bad visuals!
Then, I kept on reading…
This did make me think, OK, well they keep talking about having anal sex to get HIV / AIDS, not swimming pools. Whew…ok, things are getting better. But then…
Ok, no mention of pools again. This is good. Though I was still picturing stepping on something sharp in the pool and blood in the pool and potential disease. And then…
Being bitten by someone who has HIV? Holy sh*t, really?
But the only one on here that seems potentially related to a public swimming pool is, once again, the point about broken skin.
Luckily, after reading all of this, my irrational fears were starting to subside.
I even saw an HIV / AIDS risk prevention tool that the CDC.gov was offering. I was tempted to have my whole family take it.
I still might do that, but it seemed a bit extreme, considering the fact that we’ve been to the public pool more than once this summer. It was only this particular time that the question came up and the paranoia took over.
So…I was just about to close my computer and finally hit the hay.
Then…a thought struck me. It was a thought that I hadn’t had in years. And, just because I feel this is such an important topic to discuss, I will tell you what this thought was.
Full Disclosure: Confession Time
Full disclosure: Before I got married, I had sex with a guy in a lake. Once. I was 22. This was 3 years ago. My husband knows about this, but I never made much out of it. But oh god, the guilt.
Actually, the guilt only hit me recently, when I was doing all of this research. As in, last week.
Why? Because I didn’t know the guy, and we didn’t use protection. That’s what gets me here. I don’t know why it happened the way it did. It was just me being impulsive.
Amazingly, this memory still bothers me. Why? Because … what if. What if… he had a disease, like HIV? I never thought about it until recently.
I read somewhere that HIV / AIDS can stay in your system for years and you don’t even know it.
Actually, I read over on perimeterclinic.com that HIV / AIDS can be dormant in your system for up to 10 years!
Then I came across these stats over on AIDSMAP, showing HIV transmission risks per exposure. Interesting stuff.
So, based on this chart, I was figuring that my chances must be somewhere around 0.08%, since this was in a lake and lakes aren’t chlorinated. That would make it just as likely as not being in a lake.
Of course, all of this is assuming that the guy at the time had the disease, or any disease for that matter! I just assumed he didn’t, because nothing ever came of it and, as far as I know, I don’t have any symptoms today.
But, what I am, is paranoid – clearly.
The whole public pool conversation got me thinking about this topic, and suddenly I feel bad about it.
I guess if I keep worrying about this, I should just get tested for STI’s – probably all of them, just to be safe.
Back to the original question – can you get HIV from swimming in a public pool – it would seem that the answer, based on my research, is that it’s almost impossible, to the point where there has been no record of it ever happening.
That said, I always encourage everyone to do their own research.
And it can’t hurt to get tested either!