Waterborne illness could be lurking in your favorite waterway

Find Out How To Protect Your Family And Prevent Contamination

Image credit CDC http://www.dpd.cdc.gov/dpdx/Default.htm
Image credit CDC http://www.dpd.cdc.gov/dpdx/Default.htm

As the mercury rises above bearable in Central Texas, some families are seeking relief in swimming pools and lakes. While these cooling-off locations provide fun and recreation, they also might be harboring a microscopic germ that has made several people sick.

It’s called Cryptosporidium or Crypto for short, and it is the most common cause of waterborne illness in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Crypto is found in the fecal matter of a person who has been infected with the parasite. And it is passed to another person when they swallow water or come in contact with other items that have been contaminated.

The germ causes diarrhea that can last up to two weeks.

Almost 70 cases have been confirmed throughout Bell and McClennan Counties.

One of those cases, an eight-year-old girl from McGregor, contracted the illness while swimming in a hotel pool.

“Her symptoms began as a stomachache, then stomach cramps, a headache, vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite,” the girl’s mother said. “She had the vomiting for two days and the diarrhea and cramps and headache for nine days.”

After taking the girl to her pediatrician and having a stool sample tested in a lab, it was determined that she did in fact have Crypto.

“I had heard about [the illness] recently with the cases in the area at a local water park,” the girI’s mother said. “That was one of the reasons I took her to the pediatrician. I began thinking this was something more than a normal stomach virus.”

Dorian Drigalla, MD, FACEP, director of the Scott & White Emergency Medicine Residency Program said that the reason Crypto is getting so much attention is because it does last so much longer than a regular stomach illness.

“It’s not a one to two-day thing. I don’t know anybody who has beaten it in less than a week.”

“It’s not a one to two-day thing,” Dr. Drigalla said. “I don’t know anybody who has beaten it in less than a week.”

It can make anyone sick, but young children, pregnant women and individuals with weakened immune systems are especially susceptible to serious illness resulting from the germ.

“A lot of these folks will be a little more overwhelmed by the infection,” he said. “When we do labs on these individuals they will usually have electrolyte imbalances, that will just lead them to feel sicker overall and weaker.”

Unfortunately, there’s no real treatment for the illness, the doctor said. It has to be waited out, which can take seven to fourteen days.

“A lot of people will seriously have bad symptoms for a couple of days and then they’ll start to feel a lot better,” Dr. Drigalla said. “Then they start eating again and it just gets everything going again.”

The best way to combat the symptoms of Crypto is to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. This means water and fluids with electrolytes like Gatorade or Pedialyte.

The illness can survive for days even in a well-maintained waterway, so the key to preventing your family from getting sick is to help keep pools and lakes clean.

  • Don’t swim when you have diarrhea.
  • Avoid swallowing or getting pool water in your mouth.
  • Shower with soap before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing a diaper.
  • Take your young child to the bathroom for breaks and check diapers often.
  • Use bathroom facilities to change diapers. Do not change diapers poolside. Germs can spread in and around the pool.

And it’s not just pools that could be harboring Crypto. Splash and spray parks are also susceptible to contamination.

“It’s probably a bigger risk because kids are harder to monitor and keep clean,” Dr. Drigalla said. “And a large number of the kids at these splash parks are diaper age children. So, they’re not necessarily clean. It only takes one child at one splash park, and then there’s a long time before that germ wears itself out.”

Crypto can also live on other surfaces, including picnic tables, slides and in prepared food.

“If you’re going to go to a public area, like a park or a swimming pool, consider taking with you antibacterial hand cleaner or wipes,” Dr. Drigalla said. “Consider wiping down lawn chairs or bathroom fixtures that you’re going to touch or the changing table that you’re going to put your baby on.”

For more information, please visit the CDC’s page on Cryptosporidium.

About the author

Jessa McClure
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Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.

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Waterborne illness could be lurking in your favorite waterway