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Swimmers Beware: CDC Warns of Contagious Pool Parasite

— July 16, 2019

The CDC issues a warning for swimmers about contagious parasite in swimming pools.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning swimmers about a parasite that could be lurking in public pools.  The CDC’s warning was just issued as is starting to heat up and more and more families with young children are going to community pools to cool off.  The fecal parasite described in the statement can produce symptoms such as “watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever, and vomiting” that can last up to three weeks, causing even longer-term complications from malnutrition and dehydration.  Known as cryptosporidium or “crypto,” the microscopic parasite is especially tolerant of chlorine and commonly found in swimming pools.  It can survive in this water for several days.

CDC researchers found more than 7,465 cases of cryptosporidiosis from 2009 to 2017, 35 percent of them originating from pools.  The germ spreads via the fecal-oral route and the biggest cause of the bacteria spreading is via sick swimmers, “often young children who have yet to master toilet skills and also have more of a tendency to gulp pool water” spreading the infection, according to the agency.

Swimmers Beware: CDC Warns of Contagious Pool Parasite
Photo by Artem Verbo on Unsplash

A person infected with cryptosporidiosis can rid the body 100 million parasite eggs in one case of diarrhea.  However, those eggs that linger in contaminated pool water can lead to the infection.  A 2013 study released by the CDC found that 58% of tested pools were positive for bacteria found in fecal matter.  Direct contact with farm animals and outbreaks in settings in which there are many children in close quarters (i.e., summer camp and childcare settings), as well as ingesting contaminated food can also lead to the bacterial outbreak.

Officials recommend that those with diarrhea avoid swimming and stay out of pools for up to two weeks after symptoms have completely cleared.  Pools affected by crypto can rid the resistant germs with hyper-chlorinating shock treatments.  Teaching children not to gulp in pool water and helping them in the bathroom can also reduce the likelihood of the infection spreading.  Giving children regular bathroom breaks and checking diapers frequently will also help.

Water Quality and Health performed a survey this year that found “half of Americans use swimming pools as communal bathtubs.”  In other words, 24 percent say they’d jump in the pool within an hour of having diarrhea and 48 percent do not shower before swimming.

Michele C. Hlavsa, one of the CDC researchers behind the study, urged, “To protect ourselves from crypto, the best thing we can do is not swallow the water we swim in.”  It is also important that parents search for any public pool’s health grade prior to taking the family swimming, and if necessary, to purchase test strips available for use at home.

“You use test strips to check the chlorine level and the pH before getting in,” Hlavsa said. “We, as swimmers or parents of young swimmers, need to take a more active role to make sure we have a fun and healthy and safe time in the water this summer.”

The CDC warns not to “drink untreated water from lakes, rivers, springs, ponds, streams, or shallow wells,” as the potential for contamination from these sources is high.


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