Cryptosporidium outbreaks trigger warnings for pools & patrons in Australia

shutterstock_87283357Cryptosporidium (Crypto) is a serious and highly contagious parasitic infection, and instances of Crypto in public pools are on the rise. In December alone, 149 cases of Crypto were detected in Australia, mostly in children younger than 10 years old.  Crypto outbreaks are not new to the country and continent of Australia; in 1998, a massive crypto outbreak caused over 1,000 people to be sick from exposure to unclean public water park and pool water. Australia is not alone; in the United States there has been a rise of crypto outbreaks in the past decade, with outbreaks in 2016 totaling more than 1,500 people sick from contaminated water.

Diarrhea, stomach cramping, fever, nausea and vomiting are the common symptoms of Cryptosporidium and there is no specific treatment for the parasitic intestinal infection.  Easily spread via swimming pools, splash parks and water parks, Crypto can also be spread via contaminated drinking water or from handling infected animals.    

A big reason why Crypto spreads so easily in pools and water parks is because Crypto is chlorine resistant! The parasite can live in chlorine treated waters for more than 10 days.  Thus, shocking the pool or adding more chlorine will not help.  Currently, there is no way to test water for the parasite, so lifeguards and management have no idea if the parasite is in their facility’s water until people get sick.

You may have seen a sign at your local pool that says “if you have had diarrhea in the past two weeks, you are not allowed to swim.”  If you haven’t seen these signs, let me tell you: I have seen them many times in my swimming career!  My teammates and I would joke to our coaches that we couldn’t swim because we had diarrhea recently and the rules are the rules!  Some of us were lying and making excuses and some of us just had stomach issues from nerves.

All kidding aside, these signs are serious business. The reason for these signs is that Cryptosporidium remains active in an infected person for two weeks after symptoms and diarrhea subside and can still be spread. Two weeks!  Since Crypto is chlorine resistant, abiding by these pool rules is imperative to prevent spreading this infectious, nasty parasite.

The only way to know if your diarrhea is caused by Crypto is to do a stool test at a doctor’s office.  Otherwise, the rule of thumb is to just stay out of the pool or water park at least two weeks after your symptoms resolve.  For a competitive swimmer, two weeks can be an eternity, so competitive swimmers are encouraged to get a stool test if they have Crypto symptoms and swim in a chlorinated pool with no secondary sanitation system in place.

The Australian government is taking action to prevent further Cryptosporidium outbreaks by making and enforcing the following rules.  Regardless of where you live, abiding by these rules will help prevent another Crypto outbreak:

  • No swimming allowed at least two weeks after diarrhea resolves
  • Taking children for frequent bathroom breaks in the restroom
  • Ensuring non-toilet-trained children wear waterproof and tight-fitting pants
  • Change diapers in the bathroom ONLY — not poolside
  • Washing children thoroughly (especially their bottom) with soap and water before going swimming
  • Washing hands after handling children in the bathroom

To solve the root of the issue, pool and water parks that use advanced oxidation for water treatment and sanitation can prevent Crypto outbreaks. Advanced oxidation destroys chlorine-resistant Crypto!  Consider adding Clear Comfort to your pool or water park for peace of mind, cleaner water and happier patrons.


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Claire McDaniel

Claire is a swimming and nutrition expert who loves to educate and motivate others to healthier living. She swam competitively for 18 years, is a five time All-American, a Division I National Champion, was co-captain of Team USA at the 2007 World University Games and was named a finalist for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award. She also has a master’s degree in nutrition and is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. After swimming, Claire started coaching and has coached all over the US and even in Switzerland! Her experience and expertise about both swimming and health fuel her passion for Clear Comfort’s mission – to make swimming a 100 percent healthy activity for swimmers, coaches, lifeguards and pool staff.