Many kids and adults won’t be waiting till the first official day of summer before cooling off in a waterpark or pool. Unfortunately, the chance of getting a pool-linked infection has doubled in the last year.
At least 32 outbreaks of cryptosporidiosis were reported in 2016, compared with 16 outbreaks in 2014, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cryptosporidium is a microscopic parasite that causes the diarrheal disease cryptosporidiosis. Both the parasite and the disease are commonly known as "Crypto."
While this parasite can be spread in several different ways, water (drinking water and recreational water) is the most common way to spread the parasite.
Crypto is spread when people come in contact with the feces of an infected person, the CDC says. Not a pleasant thought.
Otherwise healthy people can be sick for up to three weeks with watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea or vomiting, the CDC warns. The infection can become life-threatening in people with compromised immune systems.
The cause? Adults or children sick with crypto-caused diarrhea are swimming in public pools despite their illness and further spreading the parasite, said Michele Hlavsa, chief of the CDC's Healthy Swimming Program.
Not only do humans spread the parasite, but also infected animals. Swimming in ponds or “swimming holes,” or anywhere animals have access, is not a good idea.
You can become infected after accidentally swallowing the parasite. Crypto may be found in soil, food, water, or surfaces that have been contaminated with the feces from infected humans or animals. Crypto is not spread by contact with blood.
Once infected, people with decreased immunity are most at risk for severe disease.
People also can contaminate pool water with crypto through just physical contact, said Lilly Kan, senior director of infectious disease and informatics with the National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO).
For example, parents might spread the parasite if they change a child's crypto-contaminated diaper and then hop in the water without properly washing their hands, Kan said.
Hlavsa explained that crypto is resistant to chlorine, and can survive up to 10 days in even properly chlorinated pool water.
Parents should take kids on bathroom breaks often, and shouldn't count on swim diapers protecting other swimmers from exposure to a child's diarrhea, Hlavsa added.
"Swim diapers do not contain diarrhea," she said. "If water is getting into that diaper, then water is getting out."
To protect themselves, swimmers should avoid swallowing any pool water, and make sure that kids don't have pool toys that encourage swallowing the water, Hlavsa said.
While home pools are safer, because of the fewer number of people sharing the water, they are not fool proof. Make sure that no one with diarrhea or a stomach illness has been in the pool before you allow your kids to jump in a friend or family member’s pool. And it goes without saying, make sure your own kids stay out of your pool if they’ve had or have diarrhea. Crypto can easily spread to family and friends.
Good hygiene and common sense should help make this summer’s pool party a special one - where everyone just has a good time and no one goes home with an unwelcomed guest inside them.