Is the cryptosporidium parasite affecting your local pool?

CryptosporidiumCC: Jay Wennington at Unsplash

As a super-tough parasite, cryptosporidium has the power to wreck your summer. According to the CDC, the number of cases in 2019 is higher than ever.

One area where you’re likely to catch cryptosporidium is your local pool. Pools are a tempting prospect when you want to cool down during the summer, but they also increase your risk of developing the disease.

What is Cryptosporidium?

Cryptosporidium is the name of the parasite that causes cryptosporidiosis. As a diarrheal disease, it has the power to cause intense stomach cramps and watery stools. Although it’s a largely unpleasant infection, it might not cause a significant amount of harm to most people. If you’re very young, very old, or immunocompromised, the consequences can become severe.

In most cases, cryptosporidium spreads because of poor hand hygiene. For example, if someone is carrying the disease and they don’t wash their hands before making food, they could pass it onto someone else. When it comes to pools, the parasite’s spread is far grosser.

Why are swimming pools such a worrying source?

If you’re carrying the cryptosporidium parasite and you head to your local pool within two weeks of your last bout of diarrhea, you risk depositing it into the water. As you may have guessed, when a potential victim swallows some of that water, they’re exposing themselves to the disease.

Unfortunately, not everyone who develops diarrhea has the common sense to stay away from their local pool. As cryptosporidium has a low infectious dose of 10, it doesn’t take much to wreak havoc. Around two to 10 days after exposure, the sufferer develops sharp stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. When the condition really exacerbates it can cause dehydration and fatigue. In the most extreme cases, dehydration leads to an electrolyte imbalance, which may require hospitalization for rehydration therapy.

The most worrying thing about cryptosporidium is that it can resist chlorine. Its tough outer shell allows it to do this, making the spread of the disease more likely than you’d expect. As such, reducing your exposure relies on other people and their hygiene.

What should you do to treat crypto?

If your immune system is healthy and tough, you should be able to manage cryptosporidiosis at home. Make sure you drink plenty of clear fluids and maintain a healthy diet. Avoid diuretics such as caffeine and alcohol, as they may make your dehydration worse.

To manage the pain, try over the counter painkillers such as acetaminophen. Avoid NSAIDs such as Ibuprofen and Naproxen, as they’ll irritate the lining of your stomach while it’s already suffering. Although anti-diarrheal medications are available, you should avoid using them if possible. Using anti-diarrheals may result in cryptosporidium remaining in your body for longer, as they slow the parasite down.

Finally, familiarize yourself with the signs of dehydration and keep a close eye on any very young or very old people with diarrhea. They’re less likely to tolerate severe attacks and may require hospitalization. As for preventative measures, keep your mouth closed as you swim and stay away from pools when you’ve had diarrhea yourself.


About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.