Hot mess: The grossest health concerns of summer

Story highlights

  • Urinating in the pool can create harmful chemicals in the water
  • Favorites such as burgers and ice cream cones can harbor bacteria that cause diarrhea, fever
  • Severe sunburns can blister and lead to infections, and increase the risk of skin cancer

(CNN)You are not the only one who thrives in the summer and loves its warm, long days. Bacteria and other microbes that cause food poisoning, diarrhea and just general grossness also flourish, threatening to make it a season to be sick.

"Foodborne pathogens follow an annual cycle, and we tend to see peaks of them, especially bacteria, in the summer, at picnics, potlucks and all the outdoor events," said Melinda Wilkins, director of the online science master's program in food safety at Michigan State University.
Your gut is not the only part of your body at risk of assault by bacteria such as E. coli in summer months. Bugs lurk in air conditioning filters, especially when it is hot and humid, ready to cause trouble for those with breathing problems. And the skin that protects you from infections can become a portal for them after a bad, blistering sunburn.
    Of course, even if some dangers await you at the picnic, pool or beach, it is worth it to get out and enjoy yourself. You can most likely handle what comes your way.

    Don't pee (or poop) in the pool

    The burn you feel in your eyes after a dip in the swimming pool is not because of chlorine. It is because pee, poop and sweat from fellow swimmers (and maybe you) react with chlorine and form chloramine compounds, and this combination is what really stings your peepers. Aside from the gross factor, the formation of these compounds means there is less chlorine left in the water to kill bacteria, such as E. coli. Chloramines can also irritate the airways, and when they build up in the air, such as at indoor pools, they can trigger asthma attacks.
    "We recommend that you not pee or poop in the water, and shower before you go in," said Michele Hlavsa, chief of the Health Swimming Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2010 CDC report found that one out of 10 public pools don't have proper chlorine levels. To make sure you're not about to take a dip in a bacteria-laden pool, "you can use pool test strips at a pool supply or big box store" to check the chlorine level, Hlavsa said. (The CDC recommends chlorine levels in pools between 1 and 3 parts per million and pH of 7.2 to 7.8.)
    Even at the right levels, chlorine does not wipe out everything. A new CDC report found that a parasite called cryptosporidium, which can cause diarrhea and lives up to 10 days in a chlorinated pool, was associated with 37 (54%) of the 69 outbreaks of illness at pools and water parks. "To protect yourself, it's about not swallowing the water you swim in, and to protect others don't swim if you have diarrhea," Hlavsa said.

    Lurkin