While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning of a steady increase in diarrhea outbreaks in the U.S. caused by a summertime parasite that has caused hundreds of hospitalizations linked to pools, cattle and childcare settings, local health officials believe there's little to worry about in Hamilton County.
Outbreaks of cryptosporidium, or "crypto," increased an average of 13% each year from 2009-2017, according to a CDC report released last week. About 7,500 people became sick, 287 were hospitalized and one person died as a result of the parasite across 40 states and Puerto Rico — which voluntarily report such data. The organism is most harmful for children. It is the leading cause of diarrhea linked to water and is most common in swimming pools. However, Hamilton County saw its reports remain largely steady during the same period.
"Haven't seen an increase, basically, we're not seeing any actual illness reports for this," said Lowe Wilkins, program manager of environmental health.
Reports did increase from 2015-2017 but have remained largely steady, declining in 2018. In 2013 and 2014, there were three reports of crypto in Hamilton County. So far, there has been one report this year.
The organism is spread orally from fecal matter, meaning the feces bacteria has to get into a person's mouth. That can happen in a number of ways. It can be digested in food, through water or from person to person. The most common way is by swimming in a pool, but it can also be transmitted by coming into contact with animal feces, drinking unfiltered water out of streams, or by drinking unpasteurized milk or apple cider.
Crypto has an outer shell that makes it hard to kill. It can survive for days in chlorinated water in pools and water playgrounds. Pools take steps to avoid the organism and encourage parents to keep sick children home.
"We just make sure all of our chemicals are always balanced and chlorine stays at the proper levels. We do have a lot of kids, if we do have a fecal accident, then we take the proper steps and make sure chlorine is high enough," said Cassidy Craven, a pool manager at Cumberland Presbyterian on North Moore Road.
The pool has about 300 child day campers Monday through Friday in addition to being open to the public. It is one of the largest in the area with 330,000 gallons for its Olympic-sized pool.
They have not had many fecal incidents this year, Craven said. When they do, there's a manual pool operators follow to ensure families are safe. The pool closes while they increase chlorine levels and scoop out the feces. If the feces are not solid, the pool closes for 24 hours to kill crypto and other organisms.
The CDC recommends people do not swim or let kids swim if they have diarrhea, don't swallow water they swim in, keep kids sick with diarrhea at home, wash their hands regularly, wear shoes in environments , and only drink pasteurized milk or apple cider.
"Young children can get seriously sick and easily spread Crypto," reads a statement from Michele Hlavsa, chief of CDC's healthy swimming program. "They don't know how to use the toilet and wash their hands, or are just learning how. But we as parents can take steps to help keep our kids healthy in the water, around animals, and in childcare."