Health officials are urging people to take precautions to protect themselves against a microscopic parasite that can live for days in swimming pools and water playgrounds and cause severe intestinal problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report last week about the increased number of outbreaks caused by the feacal parasite Cryptosporidium, more commonly known as “Crypto.”
The parasite, a common cause of water-related disease outbreaks across the United States, causes cryptosporidiosis, a disease characterized by nausea, vomiting and “watery diarrhea” that can last for weeks. Although most cases do not require medical treatment, public health experts warn the parasite may pose a greater risk to people who are especially young or old or who have compromised immune systems and are at increased risk for life-threatening malnutrition.
The most common cause of the outbreaks was swallowing contaminated water from recreational places, researchers said. In about 35 percent of the outbreaks, sicknesses were linked to swimming pools and playgrounds. Contact with infected cattle accounted for about 15 percent and contact with infected people in child-care settings accounted for about 13 percent, according to the report.
Cryptosporidium lives in the intestines of infected people and animals who shed a form of the parasite in their feces. Public health experts say that even trace amounts of infected feacal matter on hands or swimsuits can contaminate food, beverages or swimming pools and others who ingest it can become infected, as well.
Symptoms of cryptosporidiosis usually start to occur within about two to 10 days after acquiring the infection. In addition to diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, other symptoms may include fever, stomach pain, dehydration and weight loss. Some precautions include keeping sick children with diarrhea away from the water as well as from child-care facilities, washing hands with soap, not hand sanitizers and removing shoes around livestock before entering your home.