The Wake County Public Health Division has now confirmed 29 cases of an intestinal illness spread in pool water and is investigating other potential cases.
Earlier this week, Dr. Sue Lynn Ledford, the Public Health Division Director, said the cases of cryptosporidiosis were linked to roughly 14 pools in the North Raleigh area, but county officials refuse to identify any of the affected pools. County spokeswoman Elizabeth Brandt said confirming the number of cases at a particular pool would violate a state law that requires Wake County to protect the identities of individuals who may have a disease.
Cryptosporidiosis is caused by a micro-parasite called cryptosporidium, or crypto, that can be transmitted from one swimmer to another from the residual fecal matter of an infected person. The parasite is resistant to the levels of chlorine normally found in swimming pools. To combat cryptosporidium, Wake officials have urged managers at all 1,160 public pools in the county to treat their water with extra high levels of chlorine when the pools are closed.
Cases of cryptosporidiosis are on the rise in Wake. The number of cases reported in the county has grown each year, from none in 2011 to 13 last year.
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At least two of this year’s cases have been linked to the pool at the North Hills Club, where member Britni Prybol says her 3-year-old son contracted the illness a day after swimming there on June 21. He experienced severe diarrhea for hours into the next morning, Prybol said, and couldn’t eat for a week, losing 4 pounds.
Prybol says there have been several more cases at North Hills, though neither club management nor county officials will confirm that. According to an email from North Hills Club president Chris Jones to members on June 23, pool management first received reports of illness a couple of weeks earlier but thought it was most likely due to some virus going around the community.
The email says pool management checked its water systems and water quality, both of which showed no signs of contamination. But normal tests for water quality and chemistry will not detect the presence of cryptosporidium; the only lab in the state that can test water samples for cryptosporidium is in Charlotte, and tests can take weeks to process. As a result, the county Environmental Services department advises pools to close and hyper-chlorinate when any water-related illness is reported.
“The procedure is if there is a report of illness, the pool should be closed,” said Dr. Joseph Threadcraft, the county’s Environmental Services Director.
State law requires that pools inform the local health department of any reported pool-related illness within two working days. North Hills Club never informed the health department of the illnesses there, Threadcraft said. He said the health department didn’t learn of the cryptosporidiosis cases linked to the North Hills pool until two weeks after the first report of illness, when Prybol contacted the department when her son experienced symptoms. He tested positive for cryptosporidium a few days later.
C.W. Cook, the general manager of the North Hills Club, declined to comment.
Threadcraft said he thinks other pools linked to crypto have reported illnesses within the two working days required by state law. He said once the county contacted North Hills, the club closed its pools and treated them with hyper-chlorination to clear the water of any parasites. The club continues to hyper-chlorinate weekly as a preventative measure.
“The desired result is to have the pool be in compliance,” Threadcraft said.
Northbrook Country Club, a pool less than a mile from the North Hills Club, also has experienced a few crypto cases, said club president Jonathan Watson. He said the pool is being monitored by the health department and that the club is shocking the pool with hyper-chlorination every Saturday night.
Watson is also a swim coach at the pool and said the movement of swimmers from pool to pool for meets and other events could help explain the number of pools tied to crypto cases.
“They’re are a lot of year-round swimmers who swim in a lot of pools in the summer,” Watson said.
Grayson Logue: 919-829-8922
Cryptosporidium is one of the leading causes of waterborne disease in the United States and is found in streams, rivers, lakes and pools, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People can become infected if they swallow water carrying the parasite or get it in their mouths. Cryptosporidium rests in the intestines of infected humans and animals, spreading through their stool. People can also become infected by touching surfaces like bathroom fixtures or handling infected soil or animals and then touching their mouths with their hands. The most common symptom is watery diarrhea, which usually lasts one to two weeks. Other symptoms may include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and fever. People who have weakened immune systems may develop serious and sometimes fatal illness from the parasite, although no fatalities have been reported in Wake County