Cryptosporidium outbreaks linked to pools and swimming have been increasing each year. So, this summer, before you go for your quick dip, here are some important things you should know about this rising pool parasite.
What is Cryptosporidium?
Cryptosporidiosis is a diarrheal diseases and is caused by parasites that are microscopic in nature. Cryptosporidium can survive inside the intestine of humans and animals. It is passed onto the environment through the stool of an infected person. Both the parasite and disease are most commonly called as “Crypto”.
The parasite is protected by an outer shell which allows it to survive outside the body for long periods of time. This characteristic of parasite makes it quite resistant to the chlorine-based disinfectants that are most commonly used in public pools.
Over the course of past 2 decades, Crypto has been recognized as one of the most common causes of both waterborne and foodborne diseases across the people of United States. The parasite is present in every region of the US and the world.
It thrives inside the intestine of infected humans as well as animals. These infected individuals and animals can shred the parasites in the stool. Millions of Crypto germs can come out with a bowel movement of a human or an animal. Shedding of the Crypto in the feces begins when the symptoms start and can last for weeks after the symptoms go away. Infection occurs when a person swallows the parasite by mistake. Cryptosporidium can be found in soil, food, water, or surfaces that are contaminated with feces from infected humans or animals.
How do you get infected?
- You can get infected by swallowing recreational water that is contaminated with the parasite. Recreational water is the water found in pools, hot tubs, fountains, lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, and springs. The water can be contaminated with sewage or feces from humans or animals.
- By accidentally swallowing or putting into your mouth something that has been in contact with the stool of contaminated feces of a person or an animal.
Note: It is not always possible to know that a thing is contaminated with stool just by merely looking at something.
- By eating food that is not cooked and is contaminated with Crypto. You should always thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables especially if you are planning to eat them raw.
- When your hands become contaminated during activities such as changing diapers, caring for an infected person, touching surfaces like toys, changing tables etc. that are contaminated with Cryptos.
How does the parasite spread in pools?
Crypto is spread through swallowing water contaminated with the fecal matter containing Cryptosporidium. You are sharing the pool water (along with the germs) with anyone who enters the pool. If even one person suffering from diarrhea enters the pool and contaminates the water, there is a chance of tens or hundreds of millions of germs present in it now. Swallowing even a small amount of this pool water can sicken other people in the pool.
The parasite also spreads when you swallow the water from water play areas, hot tubs, lakes, river, interactive fountains, springs, ponds, oceans and streams.
Symptoms and Diagnosis:
One of the most common symptom of the infection is watery diarrhea. Here are some other symptoms:
- Stomach Cramps
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Weight Loss
Some people with crypto do not show any symptoms at all. It takes around 2-10 days for the symptoms to appear. The diagnosis is usually done with a stool sample and testing it for the presence of the virus.
Most healthy people will recover within 2 weeks of the infection with minimal medical attention. Some people might take time to recover if they have a compromised immune system. Children and elderly are highly prone to the virus and treatment might complicate in their cases.
What safety measures should you take?
Keep your pee, poop, and dirt out of the water. Do not go into any pool if you have diarrhea. Take a shower before you get into the pool. Do not pee or poop in the water. Make sure to not even accidentally swallow any water from the pool.
Take a break every hour. Take your kids on bathroom breaks. Check their diapers (not at the poolside). Drink plenty of fluids and practice good hygiene.
What should pool operators do?
- Lead your staff to follow proper guidelines on how to reduce the chances of recreational water illnesses.
- Develop partnerships across so as to get notified about any outbreak that has been happening in the area. This would help you in preparing well for any exposure in your facility.
- Keep the chemicals in your aquatic facility at an appropriate level. Here are some of the regulated levels: optimal pH of 7.2-7.8, alkalinity should be within 80-120 ppm, calcium hardness should be within the range of 200-400 ppm and total dissolved solids below 2500 mg/liter. pH is quite important for effectiveness of chlorine
- Evaluate your filtration system and any form of disinfection regularly.
- Take special care of any large group of children.
- Educate your customers about the disease and why following the P-L-E-As is so essential especially if they have kids.
- And at last, develop an emergency plan in case of an outbreak. Support any investigation and collaborate with your local health department.
Here are the six P-L-E-As you can use for the recreational water illness.
- PLEASE do not swim in the pool if you have diarrhea especially kids in diapers.
- PLEASE do not swallow the water in the pool.
- PLEASE practice good hygiene at all times.
- PLEASE change the diapers in a bathroom and not the poolside.
- PLEASE take your kids for bathroom breaks frequently.
- PLEASE wash your child thoroughly at the rear end and wash your hands afterwards.
Educate your staff and swimmers about these P-L-E-As.
According to CDC, Crypto outbreaks have increased through the years. It’s not clear though if this is because of more reporting of the illnesses or the numbers have actually increased. Whatever the case maybe, it is always advised to stay safe and follow some simple guidelines to prevent yourself from any illnesses.
By: Pooja Sharma, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)