Supplement Feature - February 2008
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A Perfect Storm

Are Water and Air Quality on Your Radar Screen Yet?

By Joseph Ryan


The largest problem facing aquatic facilities—as far as the public trust goes—has been the steadily increasing number of RWI outbreaks. These include a wide range of parasites, viruses and bacteria at treated facilities, including E. coli, but the most widespread of these has been Cryptosporidium, most commonly called "crypto."

The word crypto should send chills down the spine of any aquatic facility operator. It is a tough, tiny parasite that can't easily be killed by normal chlorine levels or sand filtering.

"This is the one that we really need to be concerned about," said Dr. Fontaine C. Piper, former director of heath and exercise sciences at Truman State University.

Crypto—most often leaked into pools from an infected host's diarrhea or stool—inflicts nausea, vomiting, fever, stomach cramps, dehydration and diarrhea. More serious symptoms can develop in young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with HIV/AIDS, cancer or recent organ transplants.

Crypto is particularly ruthless because those who spread it may not even know they are infected. The parasite can continue to spread from a host up to two weeks after symptoms go away, and it can live outside of a host for an extended period of time.

Once an outbreak is detected—often days after infection, because symptoms don't appear for up to a week—federal and local health officials have been known to shut down aquatic facilities and alert the media.

In the past few years, however, crypto was apparently only starting its attack on the aquatic industry. From 2003 to 2005, the number of reported cases of crypto rose from 3,505 in the nation to 8,269. The official number of crypto cases for 2006 is expected to spike dramatically when the tally comes out this year.

Consider this: The CDC put out a special report in the middle of last summer to report that 18 total outbreaks had already been recorded for 2006, six more than had been documented in 2003 and 2004 combined. Moreover, outbreak-related cases of crypto only account for about 40 to 50 percent of all reported cases.

If early reports of 2007 outbreaks are any indication, the crypto increase will continue to skyrocket when that report comes out next year.

Crypto made headlines across the western states last summer when a series of outbreaks racked up 2,357 reports of illness from swimmers at public pools. Most of the reports came from Utah, where 1,900 cases were recorded within the last two months of the summer swimming season. More than 60 of those stricken had to be hospitalized.