Orange County

Pool-borne parasite spreads in Durham, Orange

This story incorrectly identified Cryptosporidium as a bacterium. The infection is caused by a parasite.

CHAPEL HILL - Health officials are warning residents to take precautions if they have visited or plan to visit indoor pools in Orange and Durham counties.

Three area swim team members have tested positive for Cryptosporidium since the first reported case last week temporarily closed the pool at Chapel Hill’s Community Center Park. An additional three team members now have symptoms and are being tested, health officials said.

Cryptosporidiosis is caused by a parasite typically transmitted through contaminated food and water. It can survive for a number of days in swimming pools, even with proper chlorination, Orange County Health Director Colleen Bridger said.

Public health officials in both counties have been working with area pool managers since last week to hyperchlorinate the water and stop the parasite’s spread. That step only works if infected swimmers stay out of the pool for two weeks after their diarrhea ends, health officials said.

They also sent letters to parents and swim team coaches to let them know about the illness and offer preventive steps.

“We’ve had wonderful collaboration and cooperation from all pool operators and all swim coaches,” Bridger said. “This is just a difficult situation to control.”

If the parasite continues to spread, the affected pools could be closed, she said.

The health department is trying to strike a balance between public health needs and the needs of area swim teams, she said. This is an important time of the year for swim team members, especially with college recruiters coming around, she said.

Cryptosporidiosis symptoms usually appear within 12 days of exposure and 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.

Bridger said the usual treatment is a round of antibiotics. She advised anyone with diarrhea for more than a couple of days to see their doctor.

“It’s not a parasite that’s going away. It will be there until you kill it,” she said.