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I've contracted a fungal infection on my nails. My doctor told me not to swim in swimming pools but in the ocean/lake, because swimming pools would make the infection worse and it could transmit to other people.

Does a fungal infection transmit to others in swimming pools? Different doctors say different things. Some other nurses told me that using swimming pools was not a problem and that the infection was less contagious if I treated it.

I wonder if usage of topical treatment (terbinafine gel, lamisil etc.) could reduce the possibility the infection is spread, as the application would kill the fungus and deactivate spores on the skin/nail and thus make the spores it less spreading to other if it has been applied recently prior to swimming.

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There are many factors that influence the transmission of infectious agents, and in the case of public swimming pools:

  • the number of bathers
  • the condition of the pool
  • care taken to disinfect the water

...will heavily influence the likelihood of contracting a disease.

The air around us is filled with various benign fungi (including other pathogens such as bacterial and viruses). Similarly, pool water can contain bacteria, viruses and fungi [1,2].

These pathogens, whether it be from the air or pool water, have the capacity to infect a host, but normally is combated by the immune system in healthy individuals [ 4].

Individuals with a weak immune system (whether it be due to an ongoing infection, steroids or other immuno-suppresive drugs) or individuals that are immuno-compromised (HIV patient) can get infected by these pathogens [3,4].

In particular, fungal infections are harder to clear by the immune system due to their natural defense mechanism to avoid our immune cells 4. Therefore, it may be advisable to avoid swimming pools, especially at peak usage as the filtration system may be unable to keep up.

  1. Foot Infections in Swimming Baths
  2. Swimming pools and fungi: An environmental epidemiology survey in Italian indoor swimming facilities
  3. Opportunistic Infection: A Review
  4. Immunity to fungal infection

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