Lice, Pinworms, and MRSA
Head lice, MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), and pinworm infection are unlikely to be spread through the use of swimming pools. Information about the potential risk for spread of these health issues is included below.
Head lice are unlikely to be spread through the use of swimming pools. Head lice survive by holding onto hair, and, although pool chlorine levels do not kill lice, the lice are not likely to let go when a person’s head goes underwater.
Head lice can be spread by sharing towels or other items that have been in contact with an infected person’s hair. To protect yourself from head lice at the pool, do not share towels, brushes, or other items that come into contact with someone else’s hair. If you already have lice, do not swim or wash your hair within 1–2 days of treating it with anti-lice shampoo—these actions will make the treatment less effective.
For more information on head lice, please visit CDC’s Head Lice website.
Although there have been no reports of MRSA spreading through recreational water, there is a potential risk of MRSA spreading at recreational water venues through contact with another person’s MRSA infection or contaminated objects and surfaces.
What is MRSA?
Staphylococcus aureus (“staph”) is a germ that often lives in the nose or on the skin of healthy people. MRSA, short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a type of staph germ that is resistant to certain antibiotics.
In the community, most MRSA infections are skin infections (pustules, boils) that may be:
- Mistaken for spider bites
- Red, swollen, painful, warm to the touch, and have pus or other drainage
- Accompanied by a fever
To learn more about MRSA, please visit CDC’s MRSA website.
Can MRSA be spread at recreational water facilities?
MRSA does not survive long in recreational water (for example, pools or hot tubs) that has proper disinfectant (chlorine) and pH levels. There have been no reports of MRSA spreading through contact with recreational water.
However, MRSA can be spread at recreational water facilities and other places by direct and indirect contact with infected people. Direct contact can happen when you touch another person’s MRSA infection. Indirect contact can happen when you share items (like towels or razors) or touch surfaces (like handrails or locker room benches) contaminated with MRSA. MRSA is most likely to spread when it comes into contact with an uncovered cut or scrape.
How do I protect myself, my family, and others when visiting recreational water facilities?
There are steps you can take to protect yourself and others from MRSA.
Steps to Protect Yourself
- All swimmers
- Don’t touch any bumps, cuts, infected areas, or bandages on another person’s skin
- Don’t share items, like towels or razors, with other people
- Keep cuts and scrapes clean and cover them with bandages
- Talk to recreational water facility operators to make sure they:
- Clean frequently touched surfaces
- Wash towels after each use
- Maintain proper disinfectant and pH levels in the water to kill germs
- If you have a skin infection
- Don’t go in recreational water. Other germs from the water can get into your wound(s) and cause additional infections.
Steps to Protect Others
- If you have a skin infection
- It might be difficult to keep infected skin adequately covered while in the water, so it is best to stay out of recreational water. If you do go in the water, cover any bumps, cuts, or infected areas with watertight bandages
- Practice good hygiene by regularly washing hands with soap and water
- Don’t let other people touch your bumps, cuts, infected areas, or bandages
If you are a pool or hot tub operator and would like more information on how to properly disinfect your facility and prevent MRSA from spreading, visit the Cleaning and Disinfecting Athletic Facilities for MRSA and the Cleaning and Disinfecting Laundry for MRSA pages. For guidelines and resources on how to prevent the spread of other germs at your facility, please visit the Information for Aquatics Professionals page.
Pinworm infections are rarely spread through recreational water. Pinworm infections occur when a person swallows pinworm eggs picked up from contaminated surfaces or feces (poop). Although chlorine levels found in pools are not high enough to kill pinworm eggs, the presence of a small number of pinworm eggs in thousands of gallons of water (the amount typically found in pools) makes the chance of infection unlikely.
In the United States, pinworm is most common in school-aged and preschool-aged children.
To prevent pinworm:
- Remind your child to wash his or her hands after using the toilet, after playing outside, and before eating.
- Make sure you wash your hands after changing diapers.
- Make sure your child showers or bathes every day and changes his or her underwear or swimsuits daily.
- Keep your child’s fingernails short and clean.
- Tell your child not to scratch around his or her bottom or bite his or her nails.
- Change and wash night clothes frequently.
For more information on pinworm, please visit CDC’s Pinworm Infection website.