Feature Article - April 2008
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Life Preservers

Meeting the Challenges of 21st Century Aquatic Risk

By Hayli Morrison

The Sanitation Solution

One of the biggest sanitation threats facing the aquatics world today is cryptosporidium. First identified in 1907, cryptosporidium was not widely recognized until the 1970s. Chlorine and other chemicals cannot necessarily be counted on to kill this parasite, which features a tough, highly resistant outer shell. Supplementing chlorine with UV or ozone disinfectant can provide a more comprehensive approach, said Michael Beach, team leader of Water and Environment Activity for the CDC's Division of Parasitic Diseases. UV and ozone disinfectants are currently used in sterilizing everything from fish tanks and ponds to hospital surgical instruments.

"Focus groups we've done have shown that people tend to think of swimming pools as this sterile, safe environment," Beach said. "Not even drinking water is sterile, let alone bathing or swimming in water."

Those infected with cryptosporidium carry the disease in their intestines and can release and spread the infection through a bowel movement. Symptoms include diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, dehydration and fever. Not surprisingly, diaper-aged children frequently carry the disease—particularly those who attend daycare.

When a cryptosporidium threat arises, "ground zero is usually the kiddie area," Beach said. It is why some cities have decided to require children to wear shoes and diaper covers when playing in public spray park areas. While parents need to be vigilant in protecting others from the threat of their child's illness, facility operators are equally responsible for spreading awareness of the gravity of recreational water illnesses in pools and spray parks.

"We can do all we want in the pump room and behind the scenes, but we have to get the public to understand hygiene issues, and that you don't swim when you're ill," Beach said. "That seems like a light-bulb moment for some people, and we wish it wasn't."

RWI awareness and education is the focus of the CDC's educational push each Memorial Day holiday weekend. The ongoing education is facilitated by local health departments, pediatrician's offices and professional organizations within the aquatics industry.

"Even though these outbreaks have been documented, we don't think the issue has been raised to the level it should have been," Beach said. "This is not something new and different; this is just another risk that has to be managed, just like people take precautions against lightning and tornadoes."

In addition to its educational efforts, the CDC is also currently in the midst of forming a technical committee to create a Model Aquatic Health Code. They are accepting nominations for committee members nationwide, who would participate in the discussions by conference call as they are able. The resulting Model Aquatic Health Code would simply be suggested guidelines for the aquatics industry, created by aquatics industry professionals in the know, addressing disease and injury prevention and risk reduction.

All legislative planning and regulatory enforcement would be handled at the local level, but the CDC hopes its guidelines may be referenced in creating those local aquatic codes. To nominate someone for the committee, contact Doug Sackett of the New York State Department of Health at dsc02@health.state.ny.us.