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Keeping your child safe from cryptosporidium exposure in swimming pools

Cryptosporidium can be avoided with hygiene, sanitation, and common sense

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Swimming pools provide refreshing summertime fun and relaxation, but lurking in the water can be a parasite that can cause illness--sometimes quite severe. It's called cryptosporidium, or "crypto" for short. And it's something that parents and child care providers alike need to be informed about to keep not only their kids or kids in their care safe, but to avoid exposing others to it as well.

Cryptosporidium is a waterborne illness carried by a chlorine-resistant parasite found in the fecal matter of infected humans and animals. Cryptosporidium causes diarrhea, often severe, and dehydration. It spreads when liquids or items that have been contaminated by an infected person are swallowed.

Outbreaks--usually in the summer months when most people utilize public pools--can leave affected individuals sick, even to the point of hospitalization. Most commonly, however, the presence of cryptosporidium leads to the closure of affected pools, spas or common-use water areas until they can be properly treated and sanitized.

Here are tips to avoid spreading or catching cryptosporidium:
  • Do not swim or allow kids to swim if you/they have any signs of diarrhea.

  • Do not swallow water from a pool area or lake. Kids like to scoop water in their mouth and squirt it at people, but specifically tell them that is not appropriate for their own well-being.

  • Wash hands with soap and water after using the bathroom and after changing a diaper. If possible, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water and then use hand sanitizer.

  • Take young children out of the pool for a scheduled bathroom break often. Kids often are too busy playing to want to take time out to go to the bathroom and may instead urinate in the pool.

  • Change soiled diapers in a bathroom, and not beside a pool or water area to prevent a chance of contamination.

  • After changing a youngster's soiled diaper, make sure their leg areas and bottom area are thoroughly washed before allowing them to re-enter a pool. Remember that trace or invisible amounts of fecal matter can still end up in the pool.

  • Keep in mind that crypto can be picked up from surfaces such as lounge chairs, picnic tables, changing tables, and bathroom fixtures then ingested, so be care about washing a child's hands carefully and often because kids often put their fingers in their mouth.
Is it okay to use swim diapers?
Researchers at the National Swimming Pool Foundation found that swim diapers--often used in pools with young children who are not potty trained--are NOT a safe alternative to preventing an outbreak of cryptosporidium because some leaking may still occur. The only true safe way to avoid the spread of crypto is to stay out of pools if there are symptoms of diarrhea.

Another consideration before heading to that public pool is to find out what sanitation system is used there first. Many public pools have added an expensive but effective ultraviolet system that inactivate organisms such as cryptosporidium and help provide better air quality around the pool area as well.
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