CDC warns of fecal pool parasite — how you can stay safe

In a decidedly unpleasant turn for pool-goers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning Friday about a fecal parasite that can cause symptoms such as “watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever, and vomiting.” Known as cryptosporidium or “crypto,” the microscopic parasite is commonly found in swimming pools — where it can reportedly survive in the water for days.

In a CDC study released last week, researchers found more than 7,465 cases of “cryptosporidiosis” from 2009-2017, 35 percent of them from pools.

So how can you keep swimming this summer and still stay safe from this parasite? Here are four things you can do to protect yourself and others.

Practice good hygiene.

A troubling survey from the Water Quality and Health last month found that “half of Americans use swimming pools as communal bathtubs.” This means that 24 percent say they’d jump in the pool within an hour of having diarrhea and 48 percent do not shower before swimming. This is a great example of what not to do.

According to the CDC, all swimmers should avoid the pool if they are ill with diarrhea. Parents should take kids on regular bathroom breaks, and check their infants’ diapers at least every hour. Those who are diagnosed with crypto should avoid the pool entirely for a minimum of two weeks.

Avoid swallowing pool water.

One of the most important precautions to take, according to Michele C. Hlavsa, one of the CDC researchers behind the study, is to keep the water out of you and your loved ones’ mouths. "To protect ourselves from crypto, the best thing we can do is not swallow the water we swim in," Hlavsa said, according to USA Today. Tips for not swallowing water while swimming, according to Speedo, include keeping your face relaxed, and inhaling and exhaling slowly.

Check the health grade at your local pool.

According to Hlavsa, one proactive thing parents can do before taking their kids to the pool is search online for the health grade their pool received. The CDC provides links to state websites that collect this data. But if you’re unable to track this information down, there is also the option of testing it yourself. “You use test strips to check the chlorine level and the pH before getting in,” Hlavsa said, according to the New York Post. “We, as swimmers or parents of young swimmers, need to take a more active role to make sure we have a fun and healthy and safe time in the water this summer.”

Steer clear of contaminated water.

Although a large number of cryptosporidiosis cases originate with pools, lakes and rivers can also be vessels for the disease. Of the more than 7,000 cases identified in the CDC’s study, roughly 3,335 cases came from freshwater. As a result, the CDC warns not to “drink untreated water from lakes, rivers, springs, ponds, streams, or shallow wells.”

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