Two words describe an Oklahoma summer – hot and humid. To find relief from the unbearable heat, many families seek out the cool waters of local swimming pools. While swimming may provide a temporary cool down and fun summer entertainment, for children it also comes with risk of possible illness.
Cryptosporidium is a microscopic parasite that causes the diarrheal disease cryptosporidiosis. It’s considered the leading cause of waterborne disease among humans in the United States, and is mostly found in public pools. “Outbreaks occur in recreational water. The cryptosporidium lives in the intestines of infected humans and they shed the parasite through the gastrointestinal tract. One can simply acquire the disease by accidentally swallowing infected water. This typically happens more in the case of toddlers and young children,” explained Dr. Singh.
Children contract the disease in a three step process. First the parasites are released in the water, then they must survive and not be deactivated by the chlorine found in the swimming pool. From there, infection will take place once a child ingests or inhales the infectious material which produces access to the gastrointestinal tract.
Most public pools are checked twice a day to maintain chlorine levels. However, levels can vary towards the end of each cycle, and chlorine actually decays in the presence of ultraviolet light. This means shallow pools will have a high level of deactivated chlorine. According to Dr. Singh, parents should use their “senses” to help prevent their child from sickness.
For those children who contract cryptosporidiosis, most will develop diarrhea and abdominal cramps. “The incubation period is an average of eight days. The children are contagious during this time and continue to remain contagious about two to three weeks after, as the cryptosporidium sheds in the blood weeks after the diarrhea has resolved,” commented Dr. Singh. “The diagnosis can only be found by testing the stool. If cryptosporidiosis is suspected, it’s a test a physician will request to look for the parasite,” she added.