GREENSBORO, N.C. — Public health officials are warning people to take precautions and protect themselves against a microscopic parasite which can live for days in swimming pools and water playgrounds.

Outbreaks of Cryptosporidium also known as 'Crypto' is on the rise in the United States. Cases linked to the water-borne parasite increased an average 13% each year from 2009-2017, according to a report published in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The parasite is known to cause severe intestinal problems and can present in individuals in the form of diarrhea and vomiting.

Along with pools, cattle and childcare settings continue to be important sources of Crypto outbreaks. The summertime parasite thrives and spread through the poop of infected humans or animals. People can get sick after they swallow the parasite in contaminated water or food or after contact with infected people or animals. Crypto is the leading cause of disease outbreaks in the United States linked to water, specifically outbreaks linked to pools or water playgrounds.

Hundreds of outbreaks caused by Crypto

The report describes 444 outbreaks reported from 2009 through 2017, resulting in 7,465 people becoming sick, 287 hospitalizations, and one death.

* 35% of the outbreaks were linked to treated swimming water in places like pools and water playgrounds.

* 15% were linked to contact with cattle, particularly calves who were still nursing.

* 13% were linked to contact with infected people in childcare settings.

* 3% were linked to drinking raw (unpasteurized) milk or apple cider.

The CDC says improvements in testing patients for Crypto in recent years might be contributing to increased detection of outbreaks.

"Young children can get seriously sick and easily spread Crypto. 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," said Michele Hlavsa, R.N., M.P.H., chief of CDC's Healthy Swimming Program.

Because of its protective outer shell, public health officials say Crypto is a challenging parasite that is tough to kill. They say it can survive for days in chlorinated water in pools and water playgrounds or on surfaces disinfected with chlorine bleach. Crypto can easily cause outbreaks because it only takes a few germs to make someone sick, and there can be millions of Crypto germs in feces. Someone sick with Crypto can have diarrhea for up to three weeks.

Management at the City of Greensboro public pools said they are ahead of the parasite and have not had any incidents of the presence of the parasite. Pool staff said they test the water and clean the pool very frequently. 

How to Protect yourself, family and Others from getting sick

Outbreaks caused by Crypto occur most commonly in the summer. Follow these effective steps to protect yourself and others this summer and year-round:

* Do not swim or let kids swim if they have diarrhea.

* If diagnosed with cryptosporidiosis, do not swim until two weeks after diarrhea completely stops.

* Avoid swallowing water when you swim in an ocean, lake, river, pool or hot tub.

* Keep kids sick with diarrhea at home and away from childcare.

* Wash your hands with soap and water frequently, especially after coming in contact with animals or anything in their environment. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not work effectively on Crypto.

* Remove shoes worn in the animal environments (for example, in barns) before going inside your home

* If you drink milk or apple cider, only buy if it has been pasteurized.

* Prevent contact with feces, and use barriers like condoms during sex

You Can Track Crypt Outbreak 

A National surveillance system helps members of the public detect outbreaks. CryptoNet is the first U.S. national tracking system for a parasitic disease that is based on DNA fingerprinting. Crypto DNA fingerprinting can help determine how the parasite spreads and help detect and investigate outbreaks.

For more information on Crypto, visit https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/crypto/gen_info/prevention-general-public.html.

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