AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s sure swimming season. Some folks like pools, others prefer lakes and rivers. It may not matter when ingesting a water parasite known as Cryptosporidium. It can make you very sick. The young, the old and the immuno-compromised could even die. It can be transported from natural water to pools. By us. And it lingers.
At a park along Lake Austin, Freddie Nunez and family finished their swim and are ready to barbecue. Freddie likes swimming in the lake, “You’ve got waves coming from boats, you don’t get that sense of emotion when you’re in a pool. You have the rocky terrain, it’s just more natural I guess.”
The problem is that surface water parasite. You swallow just a few spores and you’re a carrier. In a week, give or take, you could get abdominal cramps, severe diarrhea and dangerous hydration. Pools are clean but when someone in a river or lake gets the parasite they can bring it to a pool. Dr. Robert Simpkins, at St. David’s Emergency Center Cedar Park, says, “The best recommendation is try not to swallow pool water. That’s how it gets into your system.” The problem, he points out, is that chlorine does not kill the parasite, “The water you fill the pool with is safe. Once it is contaminated by somebody that water is not refiltered.”
It is impossible to track the number of cases. Many people don’t report their cramps and diarrhea. A fresh stool sample is needed to trace it to this parasite. And now the CDC reports it stays in your body and the water for weeks. If you’ve been ill you should avoid pools for awhile. Dr. Simpkins explains, “It could be weeks afterwards and they recommend once you are not ill you refrain from public water like Seaworld or public pools for two more weeks and people don’t usually do that.”
There are ways to kill it. An ozone or UV light filtering system can do it, but municipal pools don’t have them and they are expensive in private pools. Some folks figure they’ll just stick with the wild. Out at the park, Freddie Nunez says, “I’ll take my chances. I like this better.”
In 1993 a faulty water plant in Milwaukee led to an outbreak of Cryptosporidium infections. 400,000 people got sick, 104 died. That kind of mass outbreak is unlikely these days, but wherever you swim, it’s best to remember: don’t swallow the water.