Parasitic infection spread by pools on the rise

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A recent survey of adults found that one in four (25 percent) would swim within an hour of having diarrhea, half of adults (52 percent) seldom or never shower before swimming in a pool, and three in five (60 percent) admit to swallowing pool water while swimming.

“It’s a great topic for 9 o’clock in the morning, isn’t it?” chuckles Dr. Chris Wiant. He’s the chair of the Water Quality and Health Council, which commissioned the survey. He says the point of the survey is to show that most of us dive in without much thought.

“I think people jump in and don’t think much about it, but there really are some factors that individuals could be aware of that could make a pool a lot safer,” Dr. Wiant said.

Public health experts are increasingly concerned about a parasite called Cryptosporidium. Spread through feces-contaminated water or food, Crypto inflicts up to a month of diarrhea on victims, and can cause extreme dehydration in small children and the elderly. Crypto’s the most common cause of diarrheal illness outbreaks linked to pools, because the parasite enters the water, and the water enters people’s mouths.

Outbreaks of a Cryptosporidium linked to swimming pools and water playgrounds are increasingly being reported to the Centers for Disease Control, with twice as many outbreaks in 2016 as in 2014. At least 32 outbreaks caused by Crypto linked to swimming pools or water playgrounds in the United States were reported in 2016, compared with 16 outbreaks in 2014. In comparison, 20 Crypto outbreaks linked to swimming were reported in 2011, 16 in 2012, and 13 in 2013. It is not clear whether the number of outbreaks has increased or whether better surveillance and laboratory methods are leading to better outbreak detection.

The parasite remains in the body for weeks after symptoms are gone.

“You can feel okay, you think you’re over it, but there’s actually some low level of the microorganism, the germ, that’s still coming out in the feces,” said Dr. Valerie Harwood, chair of the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of South Florida.

According to Dr. Wiant, a regular dose of chlorine won’t kill crypto. He says the contaminated pool must be cleared out, super chlorinated, and then left to sit for a considerable period of time. Homeowners with contaminated pools need to call a professional cleaner.

The only way to prevent the spread: stay out of the pool for at least two weeks after having a bought of diarrhea.

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