New federal public health data shows cryptosporidium, a severe diarrhea-causing parasite, in public pools in Georgia. (Shutterstock)
ATLANTA, GA — The water in your local swimming pool and water park may look clean and clear, but those pristine-looking fun spots are where most people catch bugs associated with summertime parasites. Public health officials say 40 states, including Georgia, and Puerto Rico have seen an uptick in cryptosporidium, or crypto, which can cause weeks-long bouts with diarrhea.
In raw terms, new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a strong likelihood that people are spreading the disease, which can cause "profouse, watery diarrhea" for up to three weeks, by jumping into the water too soon after they’ve been sick.
In the Peach State, between 5 and 13 cases of crypto were reported during the period from 2009-2017. Health officials say crypto is spread by swallowing water polluted with fecal matter containing the parasite, which is resistant to chlorine-based disinfectants. Symptoms of crypto include watery diarrhea and abdominal cramping, and can last one to two weeks. People at greatest risk for severe illness include young children, pregnant women, and anyone with weakened immune systems.
When the poop of humans and animals infected with the parasite gets in the water — even chlorinated water, where it can survive for up to seven day — others can become sick if they swallow the contaminated water, the CDC said.
The CDC said 35 percent of outbreaks of cryptosporidiosis were linked to treated swimming pools and water playgrounds from 2009 to 2017, the latest year for which data are available. Crypto outbreaks increased annually at an average rate of 13 percent, and nearly 7,500 people were sickened in 444 Crypto outbreaks. Although cryptosporidiosis is almost never fatal, one person died during the period and 287 others required hospitalization.
Here’s what you can do to avoid the falling ill:
Don’t swim when you have diarrhea. Just one diarrheal incident can release enough germs into the water that swallowing a mouthful can cause diarrhea lasting 2-3 weeks.Don’t swallow pool water, and don’t drink water directly from streams, lakes, or other bodies of water.Practice good hygiene. Shower with soap before swimming and wash your hands with soap after using the toilet or changing diapers. Germs on your body end up in the water. But, alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not work effectively on crypto.Avoid exposing open wounds or cuts to salt or brackish water. If exposed, wash the affected area right away with soap and clean water.If you become ill, visit your primary healthcare provider.Remove shoes worn in the animal environments (for example, in barns) before going inside your home.If you drink milk or apple cider, only buy if it has been pasteurized.
The report released Friday also showed that during the period of 2009-2017:
More than a third of the 444 cases of crypto — 156 — were in swimming pools, kiddie pools and water playgrounds;Twenty-two cases originated from untreated water, such as lakes;Eight-six cases involved contact with animals, mostly cattle;Fifty-seven cases were associated with child-care settings;Twenty-two cases were foodborne, most involving unpasteurized milk or apple cider;Most cases were reported in the months of July and August, and 2016 was the peak year for outbreaks, with more than 80.
Courtesy of the CDC
Crypto is a challenging parasite to control because it has a protective outer shell that makes it difficult to kill. And not only can it survive for days in chlorinated pools and water playgrounds or on surfaces disinfected with chlorine bleach, it only takes a few germs to make someone sick.
"There can be millions of crypto germs in poop," the CDC said. "Someone sick with crypto can have diarrhea for up to three weeks."
The agency recommends that people not swim for at least two weeks after their last bout with diarrhea.
That’s important because nearly a quarter of Americans say they would jump into a swimming pool within 24 hours of a bout with diarrhea, according to a survey released last month by the Water Quality & Health Council. That report also found 51 percent of Americans report using a swimming pool as a communal bathtub, either using swimming a substitute for showering or using it to rinse off after strenuous work.