Outbreaks of water-borne illness throughout the U.S. have been rising in recent years with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention documenting 90 illnesses in 32 states and Puerto Rico from 2011 to 2012. The illnesses struck at least 1,788 people causing 95 hospitalizations and one death.
Most of the outbreaks were linked with treated recreational waters such as hot tubs and swimming pools and involve a parasite known as Cryptosporidium, which swimmers bring into the water when they have diarrhea.
Other bacteria such as E.coli can be killed in minutes to hours in chlorine-treated pools but the parasite can survive for 10 days or more even in waters treated with chlorine to kill bacteria.
CDC's Healthy Swimming Program chief Michele Hlavsa said that the outbreaks commonly affect children.
"With these outbreaks, we see they disproportionately affect young children," Hlavasa said. "They're the ones who can go to a pool and young children tend to carry lots of germs."
Cyptosporidiosis causes gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, watery diarrhea, vomiting, fever and stomach cramps, which could result in infected individuals becoming dehydrated. People with the disease may also lose weight and their body becomes unable to absorb nutrients.
Detection can be difficult but diagnosis can be made by examining the stool samples of potentially infected individuals, who may be asked to provide several samples of their stool over several days.
Since cyptosporidiosis is contagious and no vaccine is available for preventing infection, it is necessary that parents take extra precautions to prevent or reduce the odds of the pathogen getting transmitted to their children when swimming in pools.
Parents should see if the most recent inspection of the pool was posted through the local health department, which is much like knowing about a restaurant's rating. They should also change the diapers of their children away from pools. It is also crucial to remind kids not to swallow the water.
Pool owners also play an important role in reducing the risks of people contracting the pathogen by requiring them to shower before going into the water, a practice that could prevent the organism from contaminating the waters.
Those with diarrhea should also keep themselves away from the pool. It is advised to avoid swimming for at least two weeks after the symptoms have subsided because it is possible that one is still contagious.
Photo: Travis Rigel Lukas Hornung | Flickr