Guest Column - July 2008
Find a printable version here

National Swimming Pool Foundation: Red Alert

New System Aims to Reduce Outbreaks

By Tracynda Davis, M.P.H., and Thomas M. Lachocki, Ph.D.

he Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF) have established a Cryptosporidium (crypto) Outbreak Alert System to help aquatic facilities protect their patrons from recreational water illness. During the past two decades, crypto has become recognized as one of the most common causes of waterborne disease in the United States.

Although NSPF has 43,000 e-mail contacts at aquatic facilities, many facilities do not yet have NSPF-certified operators on staff. As a result, readers should visit and sign up to make sure they receive the alerts. They can also download and review the Toolkit of available materials to prepare to prevent or limit outbreaks.

The system is relatively simple. It focuses on building awareness of the risk and revealing prevention strategies. When CDC becomes aware of a large cryptosporidiosis outbreak with the potential for having a regional impact, CDC will contact NSPF, which will broadcast a regional e-mail.

Though containment is critical, prevention is paramount—the alerts focus on both. Each alert will include the general location of the outbreak and a link to the Crypto Toolkit. The kit includes posters and brochures that facilities can print for free to educate consumers about not swimming when they have diarrhea. In addition, there are documents to educate facility personnel about crypto and how to treat water that may be contaminated.

The NSPF Toolkit also includes an additional benefit: videos to help educate recreational facility management. Viewing these video seminars is a great way to get the latest updates from experts in the field. The seminars, presented at the 2007 World Aquatic Health Conference, include a synopsis of several outbreaks and key challenges and prevention strategies by Dr. Michael Beach of the CDC, as well as Dr. James Amburgey of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, summarizing recent data showing that water clarifiers can help remove crypto from pool water. These leading scientists, and several others, will discuss their latest findings at the 2008 World Aquatic Health Conference, which will be held in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Oct. 15 to 17. (For more information about the conference, visit

All About Crypto

Cryptosporidiosis is a gastrointestinal illness that causes diarrhea, stomach aches, vomiting, dehydration and other symptoms. Most people who have healthy immune systems will recover without treatment, but symptoms can be particularly severe in young children, the elderly and people who are immune-compromised. Unfortunately, many aquatics managers are not aware of crypto outbreaks when they occur in their community and what to do if it happens in their pool. The new alert system is designed to increase communication between the aquatics industry and public health and decrease the knowledge gap on how to fight crypto.

Based on crypto's resistance to chlorine, it is not surprising that the number and severity of documented outbreaks have been increasing for more than a decade. It is widely acknowledged that many outbreaks are not identified, reported or investigated. Beginning this year, state health departments will use a more convenient electronic reporting system to notify the CDC of outbreaks under investigation. When other reporting systems, such as food, have converted from paper to electronic systems, the number of documented outbreaks increased. Thus, 2008 is likely to see an increase in documented outbreaks unless effective prevention strategies are implemented.