Guest Column - March 2009
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Outbreak Survival Guide

By Elise Knox


y now most of you have probably heard about Cryptosporidium—a horrible parasite that makes your bathers very sick.

Cryptosporidium (commonly called Crypto) is a microscopic parasite, 2 to 6 microns in size that is chlorine-resistant. Symptoms of infection include many days of watery diarrhea, stomach cramps and fever followed by dehydration. Preschoolers and people with immune system conditions are particularly vulnerable. The parasite is waterborne, but it can also be transmitted through food or handling fecal matter. It's ugly.

As of Sept. 12, 2008, there were 419 confirmed cases of crypto for the summer in the Tarrant, Texas, county area. Of those, 114 alone were linked to an outbreak at Burger's Lake in Fort Worth. And these were only the "confirmed" cases. Basically, there was a lot of crypto in our area last summer. Every night, I watched local TV news broadcasts, as the confirmed case count rose, and the footage of public pool closures got closer and closer to my town.

Luckily for us, we anticipated this outbreak, and it gave us a big boost for our public relations. In 2007, our maintenance staffer Frank Armijo and I attended a presentation by the Centers for Disease Control at a state aquatics conference where they discussed the "potential nightmare" crypto could be to a community. We decided to take as aggressive an approach to prevention as we could manage.

Proactive Prevention Tips

Last year, we were the first pool in the region to use a new chemical to inhibit crypto. This product is designed to improve the filter's ability to trap particles (down to 0.5 microns). The crypto cysts are approximately 2 to 6 microns in size.

We keep the base level of chlorine at 2 or 3 parts per million, instead of the 1ppm that the state requires. That way, we don't ever drop below the state standard.

We hyperchlorinate, per the CDC recommendation.

Our staff actively works to enforce the "shower before swimming" rule.

Our policy response for formed-stool and diarrheal fecal accidents follows the CDC recommendations. We also do a gallon bleach drop in the immediate area (of a fecal release) to make sure that we have neutralized that target zone.

We display signs and posters from the CDC warning people not to drink, spit or spout pool water. Our guards enforce the "no spitting or spouting" rule.

We have given visiting day cares plenty of the CDC brochures to inform parents why kids need to be kept out of the pool if they have diarrhea.

We have installed diaper-changing stations in each restroom and stop adults from making changes on the deck and tables near the pools.

On weekdays (when children are most likely to come to the pool alone) we have a 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. restroom/hydration break. Every child, age 7 through 17, is required to exit the pool water for 30 minutes. They are encouraged to go to the restroom and to stop at the water fountain for a drink.