Health & Fitness

A parasite spread by poop is on the rise in pools and water parks. What you need to know

Woman caught shaving legs in Florida pool

A video posted online shows a woman shaving her legs in a crowded Florida pool.
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A video posted online shows a woman shaving her legs in a crowded Florida pool.

Another reason, beyond showing you’ve advanced past potty training, that you don’t use the pool as a toilet: cryptosporidium, the dung-carried, diarrhea-bringing parasite that the CDC says has been steadily rising in the United States since 2009.

And, Miami-Dade has the second-most 2019 cases of cryptosporidiosis in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Health’s Reportable Diseases Frequency Report.

Of the 91 confirmed cases in Florida, Miami-Dade has 11, second only to Orange County’s 12. Broward County has six, Palm Beach has five and Monroe County has but one. Manatee County has four. Polk County, third behind Orange and Miami-Dade, has nine, making it the state’s per capita leader.

A report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control says Cryptosporidium increased an average of 13 percent each year from 2009 through 2017. The 444 outbreaks sickened 7,465 people, hospitalized 287 and killed one.

The CDC explains that Cryptosporidium, called “Crypto” for short, “is spread through the poop of infected humans or animals. People can get sick after they swallow the parasite in contaminated water or food or after contact with infected people or animals.”

Also, the CDC says Crypto’s outer shell means “it can survive for days in chlorinated water in pools and water playgrounds or on surfaces disinfected with chlorine bleach. Crypto can easily cause outbreaks because it only takes a few germs to make someone sick, and there can be millions of Crypto germs in poop. Someone sick with Crypto can have diarrhea for up to three weeks.”

Which was why 35% of the 444 outbreaks from 2009 through 2017 were traced to “treated swimming water in places like pools and water playgrounds.”

So, it’s not just the disgust factor that causes conscientious pool areas close down upon spotting any fecal matter in the water.

The second-greatest linkage is to dealing with cattle, especially still-nursing calves. Another 13% of outbreaks were linked to childcare settings and 3% to unpasteurized milk or apple cider.

“Young children can get seriously sick and easily spread Crypto,” said Michele Hlavsa, Chief of the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program. “They don’t know how to use the toilet and wash their hands, or are just learning how.”

The suggested shields against Crypto come from science and common sense hygiene:

No swimming for those suffering from diarrhea

Don’t swallow the swim water.

Kids with diarrhea shouldn’t be taken to group child care.

Wash your hands — with soap. Hand sanitizers don’t get it done against Crypto — after fussing with animals or animal stuff, like poop.

Separate shoes, kept outside the house, for doing things in animal environment.

Don’t drink unpasteurized milk or apple cider.

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Since 1989, David J. Neal’s domain at the Miami Herald has expanded to include writing about Panthers (NHL and FIU), Dolphins, old school animation, food safety, fraud, naughty lawyers, bad doctors and all manner of breaking news. He drinks coladas whole. He does not work Indianapolis 500 Race Day.
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