In South Florida, swimming pools are as ubiquitous as sandals and sun hats, and this time of year, they’re pretty much in constant use.
But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a warning about a persistent parasitic infection that has doubled in the past few years, and it’s specifically linked to swimming pools or water parks.
The infection, cryptosporidium, or “crypto,” is the most common cause of diarrhea and occurs when swimmers swallow pool water which is infected with it. The resulting illness can last for up to three weeks, leaving sufferers with watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea or vomiting, and possibly, dehydration as a result.
Unlike other swimming pool infections, crypto is particularly hard to kill with the typical concentration of chlorine. Even in pools which are treated to recommended levels, the crypto parasite can survive for up to 10 days. About the only way to respond to an outbreak of crypto, the CDC says, is closing the pool and treating the water with high levels of chlorine, called hyperchlorination.
At least 32 outbreaks caused by cryptosporidium were reported in 2016, compared with 16 in 2014. Last year, Arizona reported that 352 people were sickened with the parasite, as opposed to a high of 62 in the previous four years. Ohio reported 1,940 crypto illnesses last year; their previous high was 571 per year from 2012 to 2015. Often thought of as a tropical disease, cryptosporidium was even reported in the Canadian arctic last year.
The CDC could not say whether these figures represented an actual increase in the illness or simply resulted from better reporting mechanisms introduced in 2010. Nevertheless, it cautioned swimmers and parents to take precautions when swimming in pools or water parks.
The best way to protect yourself is to avoid swallowing any water when you swim, because it takes only a mouthful of contaminated water to become infected.
“To help protect your family and friends from Crypto and other diarrhea-causing germs, do not swim or let your kids swim if sick with diarrhea,” said Michele Hlavsa, R.N., M.P.H., chief of the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program. “Protect yourself from getting sick by not swallowing the water in which you swim.”
Further, to protect others, don’t swim yourself or let children swim until two weeks after any bout of diarrhea. Rinse off in the shower before getting into the water to help remove any germs on your body that could contaminate the pool water. Take kids on frequent bathroom breaks, and don’t change diapers in the pool area—do so in a diaper-changing area away from the pool, the CDC advises.
Those with healthy immune systems don’t require special treatment if they contract this unpleasant bug. However, if your immune system is compromised in any way, you develop blood in your stools, are having trouble staying hydrated, or if the illness lasts longer than 10 days, consult your primary care physicians and specialists at The Medical Group of South Florida, located in Jupiter, Florida, for follow-up care.