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.
We knew we couldn't budget for UV filters in all of our pools, but we needed to prepare because a Metroplex outbreak would be sure to include us. We decided to go "high tech" with a new kind of chemical treatment.
We were the first pool in the area to use a product designed to work on top of the filter surface, only allowing particles up to 0.5 microns to pass through. We have used this product now for two summers and we've had the side benefit of excellent water clarity.
The technology depends upon two complementary biopolymers that, used in the right proportions and molecular forms, lead quickly to the formation of stable flocculants and the effective entrapment of microorganisms such as algae, E. coli, Giardia and crypto in standard-depth filter media.
In addition, we did hyperchlorinate our water per CDC recommendations. However, chlorine is not an end-all. It's a clean-right-now solution only. I like to compare hyperchlorinating to washing a doorknob during flu season. The next person that comes along and sneezes on your doorknob, it's back to the same mess.
We have always been heavy with the "low tech" methods, but this really showed our staff members why we actively work to enforce the "shower before swimming" and "no spitting or spouting" rules. We also displayed clever signs and funny posters that the CDC has on their Web site for our facilities, reinforcing those same rules.
Before swim season, all of our visiting daycare centers received CDC brochures from us to inform parents why children need to be kept out of the pool if they have diarrhea. Diaper-changing stations were installed in each restroom in order to 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 mandatory restroom/hydration breaks at 3 and 5 p.m. Every child age 7 through 17 years old is required to exit the pool water for 30 minutes. They are encouraged to stop at the water fountain for a drink and strongly pressured to go to the restroom (so they don't use the pool as their bathroom).
We established a Web site for the public to read about our prevention methods and offering links to CDC's site.
Finally, people actually thanked us for enforcing rules! It was amazing how supportive our patrons became as we explained why we had breaks and required showers.
The month of August was very tough for us, as the Metroplex was having a reasonable panic over the "Crypto-Scare" in the Fort Worth area. With each nightly news show, we could see our attendance dropping. Even though we made the big news stations with our prevention program, we still took a big hit in our revenue.
I did get the horrifying call from the local health department that a woman infected with crypto while she was on vacation came home and visited her doctor for treatment. She must have been feeling better, because when the health department called to check on her, they found out she had just visited our facility. We did an emergency hyperchlorination and a lot of damage control in our publicity.
Although we did not have a major outbreak, we did have one confirmed case after being exposed by the diagnosed swimmer. We now have the confidence that we took the correct precautions to prevent this parasite from becoming a devastating infection of our facility. We are currently searching the industry and hoping for a better method of testing the water—or maybe someday there just might be a way to screen our guests for crypto before they enter our facility!
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