When you think of swimming pool safety, drowning prevention may be the first thing to come to mind. But recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is shining light on another recreational water risk: Cryptosporidium (Crypto), a microscopic parasite that can linger in pool water for days and cause severe GI issues.
Bhaskar Gurram, M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist at Children's Health℠ and Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern, shares five facts water-loving families should know about Crypto and swimming pools.
1. Cryptosporidium isn't the only swimming pool germ, but it's a highly challenging one.
Cryptosporidium is a parasite that causes the diarrheal illness cryptosporidiosis. Both the germ and the disease are commonly referred to as "Crypto."
Cryptosporidium is just one of the many germs that can live and spread in swimming pool water. Other common water-related causes of diarrhea include Giardia, Shigella, norovirus and E. coli. However, Crypto has gotten a lot of attention recently – and for good reason. According to the CDC, there were 444 reported cryptosporidiosis outbreaks from 2009-2017, and the number of outbreaks has increased by approximately 13% each year.
"Cryptosporidium is more resistant to the typical chlorine water treatments that are done to swimming pools to prevent illnesses," explains Dr. Gurram. "Once the water has been contaminated with Cryptosporidium, it can survive for days despite the water being properly treated. That's why there has been such a surge of these infections."
2. Cryptosporidiosis is commonly spread through water – but it can spread in other ways, too.
Cryptosporidium is spread through the feces of infected humans or animals. The main ways that people become infected with cryptosporidiosis include:
- Ingesting contaminated recreational water (swimming pools or water parks)
- Ingesting the parasite from untreated water such as a river or lake
- Ingesting contaminated drinking water or ice
- Eating contaminated food
It is also possible to contract cryptosporidiosis by touching your mouth after touching surfaces or objects that have been contaminated by the poop of an infected person or animal.
3. Symptoms of cryptosporidiosis appear 2-10 days after infection.
It takes about 2-10 days after becoming infected with the Cryptosporidium parasite for signs and symptoms to appear. Common symptoms of cryptosporidiosis include:
- Watery diarrhea
- Abdominal cramps or pain
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Symptoms of cryptosporidiosis may last anywhere from 1-3 weeks. However, they can last longer and be more serious in people with weakened immune systems.
4. Anyone can get cryptosporidiosis, but young children are more at risk.
Children under the age of 4 are at a heightened risk for serious complications from cryptosporidiosis because they are more likely to become dehydrated due to diarrhea. Pregnant women and other individuals with a weakened immune system, such as those who have had organ transplants, are also at heightened risk for complications from Crypto. Aside from discomfort, cryptosporidiosis typically doesn't pose a serious danger for others who become infected.
You should call a doctor if your child is experiencing:
- Bloody stools
- Diarrhea that lasts more than 4-5 days
- Fever and chills
- Signs of dehydration such as dry mouth, cracked lips, flushed skin, headache, irritability or little to no urination in 24 hours
5. You don't have to avoid swimming pools – just take some simple precautions to stay healthy.
So, should parents and kids avoid swimming pools in general? No, Dr. Gurram says there's no way he'd be able to keep his own children from swimming during the hot summer months. However, there are simple steps parents should take to prevent the spread of Crypto and other recreational water illnesses.
- Keeping children out of the water if they have diarrhea
- Showering before and after getting in the water
- Not swallowing water
- Teaching kids to not urinate or poop in water
- Making sure that young children who are not potty-trained wear a swim diaper
If you have a young child, it's a good idea to take them out of the water every hour to change their diaper or have them use the restroom. This will prevent the chance of having an accident in the water or spreading germs from dirty diapers. Be sure to change diapers in designated changing areas, not near the pool to keep germs from spreading.
Those who have been diagnosed with Crypto can carry the infection for up to two weeks after symptoms resolve. Therefore, it's best to stay out of water for at least two weeks after diarrhea subsides.
Since Crypto can also spread in daycare settings, it's important that childcare providers wash their hands after changing diapers and that children stay home from daycare if they have diarrhea.
Share this information
According to the CDC, there were 444 cryptosporidiosis outbreaks from 2009-2017, and the number of outbreaks has increased by approximately 13% each year. Learn more about swimming pool parasites such as Crypto and how to prevent them from an expert @Childrens. Click to tweet.
Stay current on the health and wellness information that makes a difference to you and your family. Sign up for the Children's Health newsletter to have more expert tips and insights sent directly to your inbox.