Sharks are incredibly scary creatures to experience first-hand, and I totally understand why you’d be afraid to go swimming in the ocean in an area known for shark encounters. But it turns out that your own poop is actually more dangerous than those beats. That’s because, as the smartest species on this planet, we decided poop must end up in the water eventually, and that’s where all the poo germs go too.
A study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology reveals that all the feces-related germs that eventually end up in oceans are actually harmful to beachgoers who go in the water.
Researchers looked at 40 past studies that tried to discover links between swimming in seawater and becoming ill. The studies ranged from 25 subjects to over 26,000. In total, the researchers looked at data for more than 120,000 people, from various countries, including the US, where most of the studies came from, and also Norway, Denmark, and others.
In 19 of these previous studies, the swimmers were compared to the people who stay dry. The researchers discovered that people who do go in the water are 86% more likely to get an illness like the stomach flu or ear ailments. Among the germs that can survive in ocean water, the studies identified Escherichia coli, Cryptosporidium, Hepatitis A virus, and others.
“Although most people enjoy the coastal waters without incident, this study shows for the first time that there is a significant increase in the risk of ear and gut ailments in those who are exposed to bathing waters.” Centre for Ecology & Hydrology’s Dr. Andrew Singer said.
The bad news is that you can’t do anything about it other than staying away from the seawater, which doesn’t sound like a good alternative to anyone who enjoys going to the beach. It’s up to governments around the world to better manage the way waste reaches seawater, and that also includes industrial waste and runoff from farmland, not just man-made poop. The majority of the germs that get into the ocean come from treated sewage water, but it gets worse during floods when untreated germs reach the ocean.
So what’s the connection to sharks in the water? As Gizmodo explains, the title of the study riffs on the 1979 sequel to Jaws — Is it safe to go back into the water? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the risk of acquiring infections from recreational exposure to seawater.