A Cryptosporidium outbreak in central Ohio has sickened at least 202 people, according to a press release by Columbus Public Health. That number is more than the last four years combined.
The outbreak is not tied to a central location, since many of those sickened include people with multiple exposures at different local recreational pools, spray fountains, and water parks.
Cryptosporidium is a parasite that causes an illness in people. The main symptom of this disease is severe diarrhea.When people go swimming, or eat contaminated food, they ingest the oocyst and the parasite life cycle begins. The parasite is in oocyst form during the infective stage. It only takes 10 of these little oocysts, which are about half the size of a red blood cell, to make someone sick.
Crypto outbreaks are usually linked to community water features, day care centers, or infected food. The disease is very infectious, especially since the parasite has an outer shell that lets it survive outside the body for a long time. The oocyst is also very resistant to chlorine, the main chemical used to disinfect pools. And it cannot be killed by alcohol gels or hand sanitizers.
Public Health is reaching out to the public, asking them to help stop the spread of this illness. When you are going to a water park or pool, do not swim when you have diarrhea, and for two weeks after the diarrhea has ended. Never pee or poop in the water. Always take a shower or bathe before you go into a pool or water park. And change diapers in the bathroom, not by the pool. Take the kids on frequent bathroom breaks, and check diapers often.
In addition, always wash your hands well with soap and water before eating or preparing food for others, after changing diapers, going to the bathroom, or caring for someone who is ill. If you are sick, especially with diarrhea, stay home and do not go to work or school, especially if you work in the food service industry, the healthcare industry, or for a school or daycare.
Keep kids out of school when they have diarrhea until the illness is over. Any child with diarrhea or who has been diagnosed with cryptosporidiosis should be kept out of swimming activities or any activity in a public water feature for at least two weeks after the diarrhea has stopped.
The symptoms of cryptosporidiosis include watery diarrhea, dehydration, lack of appetite, weight loss, stomach cramps, abdominal pain, fever, nausea, and vomiting. The symptoms usually appear two to ten days after a person ingests the oocyst. And the symptoms can improve, then recur. Infected people can spread the disease for several weeks after the diarrhea stops.
Unfortunately, some people may have the disease for life, since there is no effective drug for the treatment of cryptosporidiosis. People with immune system issues are the most likely to suffer this complication.
If you have visited any type of water park or pool in central Ohio this summer and have experienced the symptoms of cryptosporidiosis, please see your doctor.