The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a warning on the rising epidemic of the “crypto” fecal parasite that lives in swimming pools for days. Health officials are asking Americans to take precautions as this parasite can be transmitted through swimming pools, water parks and public swimming areas such as lakes and creeks. Cryptosporidium is a microscopic parasite that lives in water and causes cryptosporidiosis, an illness that causes healthy adults to suffer from severe diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, dehydration, and intestinal problems for up to three weeks. The symptoms usually start to occur within two to ten days of acquiring the infection, and can be worse for children, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems.
The CDC reports that cryptosporidiosis is almost never fatal, however, one death has been reported and 287 people were hospitalized between 2009 and 2017. Also during this time period, 444 outbreaks were reported in 40 states and in Puerto Rico, which resulted in 7,465 people falling ill.
Recreational water, including swimming pools, kiddie pools, and water playgrounds were responsible for 156 cases, which were more than one-third of all cases reported. Untreated water and drinking water caused 22 cases. 86 cases involved contact with animals and cattle. 57 cases were associated with child care settings. 22 cases were foodborne, involving apple cider and unpasteurized milk. The one death that was reported was transmitted in a hospital setting. Most cases were reported during the summer months of July and August, and have increased by 13% on average, per year, between 2009 to 2017.
The CDC says cryptosporidium fecal parasites have a high tolerance to chlorine which is used to treat swimming pools. The parasite can survive for up to seven days even in a properly treated chlorinated pool. It can enter the body when a swimmer swallows contaminated water, caused by an infected person who was in the same pool even days before.
The CDC is currently working to educate the public on preventative measures that can decrease outbreaks. Children with diarrhea should not be placed in childcare after a “crypto” outbreak. Also after an outbreak, childcare workers and parents should clean household surfaces with hydrogen peroxide instead of chlorine bleach as chlorine is ineffective in killing this parasite. Livestock workers and people visiting zoos or county fairs should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and warm water. They should also remove shoes and even clothing before entering their homes, so as not to contaminate other environments. Swimmers should avoid swallowing pool water. Affected swimming pools can be decontaminated using hyperchlorination methods according to the CDC.
The Water Quality and Health Council recently released survey results revealing that 24% of Americans admitted that they would jump into a swimming pool within an hour of having a bout of diarrhea. The CDC strongly recommends that any persons suffering from diarrhea or gastrointestinal issues should completely avoid getting into a swimming pool or any public swimming areas. These persons should also be required to stay away from swimming for a minimum of 2 weeks after their conditions have subsided, so as not to infect other swimmers. These preventative methods recommended by the CDC could possibly decrease the rising epidemic of the “crypto” fecal parasite from spreading throughout the nation.