The growing threat of the parasite known as Cryptosporidium in swimming water led Azcentral.com columnist Joanna Allhands on a fact-finding mission.
The Centers for Disease Controls warned that the number of outbreaks attributed to the parasite doubled from 2014 to 2016. That’s an increase to 32 from 16 in two years. But, as Allhands points out, those numbers may not really show the true scope of kids and adults getting sick in water playgrounds.
Last year, 437 cases were reported at 75 facilities in Arizona alone but health officials estimate that the toll is higher.
Watch: How to keep your insides safe while swimming
Here Allhands distills the four most important need-to-knows for parents venturing to public pools and splash pads this summer.
1. Clean water won’t kill it
Cryptosporidium is notorious, because it can live in properly chlorinated pool water for up to 10 days. Even scarier: It can take as few as 10 of the microscopic parasites to make someone sick.
2. Crypto spreads all too easily
Crypto can take a week to incubate. That means kids and adults are unknowingly spreading their germs. By the time people seek medical attention up to three weeks may have passed.
Crypto is spread primarily by swallowing contaminated pool water. A CDC epidemic officer said that one diarrhea incident can release more than a million parasite.
Does that mean people swam while they were sick with diarrhea? Allhands asked. “Possibly. And yes, ew. Who does that?” But people may also swim within two weeks of having diarrhea because the parasite remains in poo that long.
3. Science is helping us attack it
Tests and interviews with people from states where there were outbreaks, including Alabama and Ohio, may help to minimize future outbreaks.
Contaminated sites were shut down and knowing the type of crypto is helping healthcare providers determine how to treat it.
The CDC recently tweaked its treatment guidelines after learning that heavy chlorination may inhibit how a particular strain of crypto is killed, Allhands reported.
Some Arizona pools have begun to add ozone and UV treatment systems, which won’t prevent a crypto outbreak but can kill the bugs faster.
4. This is how to stay safe
- Don’t swallow pool water if you can help it (I know, that’s impossible for little kids).
- Shower with soap before swimming to wash off possible contaminants.
- Obviously, but it must be said: Don’t poo in the water.
- Change toddlers’ swim diapers and take potty-trained kids to the bathroom frequently while you’re there.
- Most important: If you have diarrhea — or have had it within the last two weeks — stay home.
“So Just. Don’t. Swim for two weeks after you’ve been sick,” Allhands writes. “It’s that simple.”