Americans who enjoy taking a dip in public pools to cool off during the summer face the danger of encountering “crypto,” a diarrhea-causing fecal parasite that is on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cryptosporidium — which causes cryptosporidiosis — can lead to “profuse, watery diarrhea” among healthy adults that can last as long as three weeks.
“The number of treated recreational water-associated outbreaks caused by cryptosporidium drives the summer seasonal peak in both waterborne cryptosporidiosis outbreaks and cryptosporidiosis outbreaks overall,” according to the CDC, which released a report Friday.
Although the bug’s almost never fatal, one death has been reported since 2009 — while 287 people were hospitalized between 2009 and 2017, according to the CDC, which found that the US has experienced a 13 percent spike in crypto outbreaks per year over time.
The agency, which shared the alarming numbers in its latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, said exposure to the parasite in pools and water parks caused 7,465 illnesses during that time.
Crypto is usually spread by people — particularly children — who swim too soon after having suffered from diarrhea.
Leading causes include swallowing contaminated water in hot tubs, pools or water playgrounds, as well as contact with infected cattle people in child-care settings, according to the CDC.
Unlike most germs, which are killed within minutes by disinfectants like chlorine or bromine, crypto has a high tolerance for chlorine and can survive in chlorinated water for up to a week, the agency says.
In addition to watery diarrhea, symptoms of the contamination include stomach cramps or pain, dehydration, nausea, vomiting, fever and weight loss.
For some whose immune systems are compromised, crypto may lead to life-threatening malnutrition and wasting.
Anyone suffering from diarrhea should avoid swimming until at least two weeks after their case subsides, the agency says.
“Unlike maybe norovirus or E. coli, which cause diarrhea or vomiting for a couple days, you can have diarrhea caused by crypto for up to three weeks,” said Michele Hlavsa, chief of the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program and one of the study’s authors. “That’s not fun.”
“To protect ourselves from crypto, the best thing we can do is not swallow the water we swim in,” Hlavsa said. “We want to keep crypto out of the pool in the first place, and the way we do that is not to swim or let our kid swim when we’re sick with diarrhea.”
Hlavsa recommended going online and checking inspection scores on the local or state health department’s website before getting into a pool or swimmers doing their own inspection when they arrive.
“We’re calling this a mini-inspection, where you use test strips to check the chlorine level and the pH before getting in,” she said. “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.”