Summertime is when you cool off with a dip in the pool, but this year you might be sorry you did. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are urging citizens to protect themselves against a hardy parasite called Cryptosporidium.
Public and private pools alike are being colonized with the nasty bug, better known as “Crypto”. The organism lives in the intestines of infected people and animals. Crypto spreads in pool water when someone who is sick with the parasite goes swimming and has a loose bowel movement in the water. Because of their more liquid nature, diarrheal stools spread the microbe faster than formed ones.
Cryptosporidium is so tough that it can live for up to ten days in the presence of bleach. This year, there are more outbreaks in recreational waters than usual. The frequency has risen an average of 13% annually since 2009. In the last decade, over 400 incidents were reported in the U.S., leading to sickness in 7,500 people.
Note: Organisms that cause sickness in a population are known as “pathogens”.
Swallowing water from pools, hot tubs, and swimming holes isn’t the only way you can get infected. Day care centers and other venues with a large number of small children can also lead to contamination. Contact with infected animals may also pass the organism.
SYMPTOMS OF CRYPTO INFECTIONS
Infection with Crypto leads to a disease called “cryptosporidiosis”. Within two to ten days after exposure, the victim starts to have nausea, vomiting, and watery diarrhea that can last for weeks. Other symptoms of the illness may include fever, stomach cramps, and weight loss.
Diarrheal diseases can be dangerous due to their tendency to cause dehydration. Dehydration due to various diarrheal infections like dysentery caused many deaths among Civil War soldiers; more, in fact, than bullet or shrapnel wounds.
Most people can aggressively work to rehydrate themselves and tough it out for the next two-three weeks. The very old and the very young, however, are at greater risk for complications, as are those with poor immune systems.
Oral rehydration works well as treatment. According to the Mayo Clinic, resistant cases may be treated with medications like, among others, the anti-parasitic Nitazoxanide, the antibiotic Azithromycin (Bird-Zithro), and the diarrheal medication loperamide (Imodium).
The CDC recommends that people who are experiencing diarrhea should avoid swimming pools. If you decide to jump in, make sure you avoid swallowing the water. If your child has diarrhea, you can prevent an outbreak by not taking them to day care or social gatherings.
If you’re handling livestock, make sure you wash your hands well afterwards. This includes visits to zoos or county fairs. If you’re stepping on animal manure a lot, take your shoes off before entering the house.
Although cryptosporidium is resistant to bleach, it is very easily killed by boiling water. If at all possible, boil questionable water before you drink it. The standard recommendation from the CDC is one minute of a good roiling boil at sea level, with three additional minutes added for elevations above 2000 meters (6562 feet).
Just one person with diarrhea having an “oops” moment can contaminate an entire swimming area. Be careful to avoid Crypto or you’ll have a really memorable Summer this year (in the very worst way).
Joe Alton MD