In recent weeks, Jasper County Public Health has received a growing number of reports of Cryptosporidiosis, or “Crypto” for short.
Cryptosporidium is a parasite that causes diarrhea in both animals and humans. As of early August, cases had been reported in about half of Iowa’s 99 counties, already exceeding the total number reported cases for 2012.
Crypto is a disease caused by a parasite that results in watery diarrhea, sometimes accompanied by nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and low-grade fever. The parasite can cause disease in both humans and animals.
“People get Crypto by coming in contact with other people or animals shedding the parasite, or by drinking water contaminated,” said Brenda Smith, director of Skiff Home Care and Public Health. “Cases occur year round, but the peak is during summer or early fall.”
Crypto is a disease that leads to serious diarrhea and can last for two weeks or longer. A single diarrheal incident can release up to a billion crypto germs.
In a public swimming area, that can be a significant problem because, although swimming pools are chlorinated, chlorine does not kill crypto right away. And only a few germs in your mouth are enough to make you sick.
While those who are immunocompromised may become seriously ill, people with normal immune systems are generally ill for a maximum of 30 days.
“People who are healthy often improve without taking any medications,” Smith said. “They should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration due to diarrhea. Make sure to consult with a health-care provider if you have any questions about your health or before taking any anti-diarrheal medication.”
While many cases of Crypto stem from swimming in contaminated bodies of water, the end of the swimming season doesn’t necessarily mean the end of Crypto.
“It’s important that people focus on hand hygiene,” Smith said. “Crypto is treatable, but more importantly, it’s preventable.”
The Iowa Department of Public Health stresses that hands should be washed:
• before preparing or eating food;
• after using the toilet;
• after changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet;
• before and after caring for someone who is ill with diarrhea;
• after contact with animals or their living areas; and
• after handling animal waste.
To reduce the risk of disease transmission, children with diarrhea should be excluded from child care settings until the diarrhea has stopped.
If you do find yourself with the opportunity to go swimming, the following tips are valuable in preventing Crypto infection:
• Do not swim if you have diarrhea; wait two weeks after diarrhea has stopped before swimming.
• When swimming, do not swallow the water and avoid getting water in your mouth.
• Take a shower with soap and water before swimming.
• Make sure to clean your bottom. The small amounts of fecal material left on your bottom after using the toilet will wash off in the pool if not washed off before getting into the pool.
• Take frequent bathroom breaks while swimming and make sure small children do the same. Change diapers in the bathroom, rather than at the pool side.
• After changing a diaper, wash your hands and your child’s bottom thoroughly with soap and water.
• If you or your child have a fecal accident in the pool, report it immediately.
If you have any questions about cryptosporidiosis, or if you would like more information on how to prevent it, contact the Jasper County Public Health Department at (641) 792-5086.