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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
As swimming pool and water park employees across central Ohio readied for crowds this holiday weekend, they knew they had taken precautions to make the pools as safe as possible for the tens of thousands of area residents who will splash in them this summer.
Now, it's up to the public to do the same. That means staying out of the water if you're sick.
Last summer, central Ohio experienced its largest-ever outbreak of cryptosporidiosis, a highly contagious diarrheal disease, which sickened 1,940 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was tied to several swimming pools and water parks and was spread among people in Franklin and Delaware counties.
It was first detected in July and continued to spread for months. Because the disease typically is spread through feces, and often in swimming pools, health officials expected the outbreak to slow down at the end of summer, when most pools closed. But cases kept popping up, likely spread among family members or in day-care centers or schools, officials said.
About 50 people were hospitalized.
The CDC said at least 32 cryptosporidiosis outbreaks linked to swimming pools or water playgrounds were reported in the United States in 2016, compared with 16 outbreaks in 2014. In Ohio, the 1,940 cases compared with no more than 571 cases for any one year from 2012 through 2015.
Jose Rodriguez, spokesman for Columbus Public Health, said the city is preparing its pools the same way it does every year.
"Pool safety for us is a year-round job," he said. "We inspect our licensed pools on a regular basis to help prevent all types of water-borne illnesses."
Still, health officials were reeling last summer as the outbreak grew.
"I can't even tell you how it started," said Traci Whittaker, a spokeswoman for the Delaware General Health District.
Cryptosporidiosis is caused by a microscopic parasite, which causes infection when swallowed. It also can be spread through human contact.
"Crypto might be found in soil, food, water or surfaces that have been contaminated with the poop of an infected person or animal," said Michele Hlavsa, chief of the CDC's Healthy Swimming program.
Symptoms include stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and, most commonly, diarrhea. Outbreaks often take a while to resolve because the infection is extremely contagious and has an incubation period of two to 10 days, according to the CDC. An infected person can spread the illness for as long as two weeks after diarrhea subsides.
Columbus pools try to keep chlorine levels higher than the one-part-per-million state requirement.
"We maintain ours at two to three parts per million," said John Gloyd, the city's aquatics director. Nonetheless, "there's nothing I can put in the water that'll kill crypto."
Pools linked to last year's outbreak were forced to hyper-chlorinate the water, a process which cost the city around $100 a pool.
"It's an inconvenience," Gloyd said. "I've got to close the pool [even] if it's a 90-degree day."
The city has been working in tandem with local county and state officials to ensure that pools and patrons alike are prepared. But, Rodriguez said, "We cannot be at every pool 24/7."
Melanie Amato, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health, said the state is distributing educational materials and trying to promote awareness.
Delaware County health officials also have distributed information at pools. "In light of what happened last year, we took an early, proactive approach," Whittaker said.
One of the parks affected by the outbreak was Zoombezi Bay at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
"The first step towards preventing (infection) is for guests to be responsible," said Patty Peters, a zoo spokeswoman.
Peters said Zoombezi operators are checking pool chlorine levels every two hours and are hiring an independent company to test the park's water bi-weekly.
She said the park's water is constantly being filtered through a sanitation system that passes water through intense ultraviolet light to kill bacteria.
The park had implemented the new system in a few of its pools even before last year's outbreak.
"This year, it's now in all of our pools," Peters said.
"It's obviously not instantaneous," she said, and normal amounts of chlorine are not high enough to kill cryptosporidia.
Really, it's up to pool patrons to do the right thing.
"If anyone in the family ... (has) any sign of illness," Gloyd said, "I would ask you to stay home."
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