CHAPEL HILL — Health officials say a pool-borne parasite has now sickened at least 14 people in Orange and Durham counties since early December.
The additional cases of Cryptosporidiosis, or Crypto, are not surprising, Orange County Health Department spokeswoman Stacy Shelp said. The first case was reported Dec. 6, and the illness has an incubation period of roughly two weeks.
Health officials in the two counties have been working with pool managers to hyperchlorinate the water since that first case was reported , Shelp said. They’ve also been in touch with local swim teams and parents to let them know about the illness and how to prevent an infection, she said.
Wake County also is reporting Cryptosporidiosis cases, she said.
The illness is caused by a parasite typically transmitted through contaminated food and water. It is found in fecal matter and can survive for a number of days in swimming pools, even with proper chlorination, Orange County Health Director Colleen Bridger said.
Symptoms can include watery diarrhea, stomach pain, cramps and a low fever. In some cases, patients develop nausea, vomiting and dehydration. The elderly, young children, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems are most at risk of developing a serious illness.
The key to resolving the problem is keeping infected swimmers out of the pool for two weeks after their diarrhea ends, she has said. Pools could be closed if the parasite continues to spread, but health officials expect the number to start falling, Shelp said.
There’s no way to know which pools have spread the illness, she said.
The outbreak has been particularly tough on area swim teams.
East Chapel Hill High School swim coach Lyn Smith said this is a key training time ahead of conference and regional meets in January and February and senior sectionals in March.
Many on her team decided not to show up last week for the meet against Riverside High School, she said.
“A lot of parents are being cautious and not letting their kids swim,” she said.
Smith said she decided to do the same thing, pulling her daughter from the pool – and a swim meet in Greensboro – for 14 days to be careful. She is urging her swimmers who show up to practice or compete to shower before jumping in the pool, she said.
Cryptosporidiosis is not just affecting the Triangle, but many states, including Maryland, Texas and Tennessee, Smith said. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports several thousand cases a year nationwide, most during the summer pool season.