We asked an expert how you can protect yourself.

By Maggie O'Neill
June 28, 2019

Fourth of July is right around the corner, meaning many across the country are gearing up to go for a swim either in a community pool or one in their own backyard.

But the CDC is warning about an illness that’s on the rise that can be spread via contaminated pool water. The illness is called cryptosporidiosis, and you can pick it up by swimming in a pool contaminated by someone who had diarrhea recently.

We asked an expert what you can do to protect yourself and your kids from cryptosporidiosis over the summer months, and what you need to do to prevent the spread of the parasite-caused illness.

What is cryptosporidiosis?

Cryptosporidiosis is caused by a parasite called Cryptosporidium. The way a person can get cryptosporidiosis is…well, less than pleasant. “It is basically fecal-oral transmission. Feces to oral intake is [the] number one cause,” Waleed Javaid, MD, director of infection prevention and control at Mount Sinai Downtown New York City, tells Health.

So if someone who has had diarrhea for the past few days jumps into a neighborhood pool, remnants of that diarrhea could float in the pool and infect other swimmers.

Most people who get cryptosporidiosis only get a mild form of the illness. Their symptoms might include diarrhea and some abdominal discomfort. But some people will develop a more severe form of cryptosporidiosis, namely those who have weakened immune systems (technically called “immunosuppressed”). They will experience diarrhea for longer than those who are otherwise healthy. The CDC says cryptosporidiosis-induced diarrhea can last for three weeks for immunocompromised people.

In addition to picking up cryptosporidiosis in a pool, you can get the disease from cattle that carry the parasite.

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What does the new statement say?

The CDC announced today that from 2007 to 2017, there were 444 cryptosporidiosis outbreaks. These caused 7,465 cryptosporidiosis cases, recorded in 40 states and Puerto Rico.

What’s more, the number of cryptosporidiosis cases is on the rise in the US. The number of outbreaks increased by about 13% each year from 2007 to 2017, the statement says. However, the CDC says that the rise could be due to more advanced testing methods that didn’t pick up on as many cryptosporidiosis cases in 2007.

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What can you do to protect yourself from cryptosporidiosis?

Be sure the facilities where you swim are kept clean. “Go to places you’re aware have high standards of hygiene. What are their processes and policies?” Dr. Javaid suggests. This is important for everyone but especially so for those who are more susceptible to diseases. “People who are immunocompromised need to be vigilant about these things,” Dr. Javaid says. Also, be cautious if you’re swimming in a pool where cattle or other animals are in close proximity, since the parasite can be transferred from animals to humans. And anytime you touch cattle, make sure to thoroughly clean your hands.

Other than avoiding pools altogether, that’s pretty much your only option. But you should also do your part by making sure you and your children don’t swim in any community pools after having had diarrhea.

Dr. Javaid says anyone who has had diarrhea during the past few days shouldn’t dive in just yet, since that could transmit the illness to someone whose body isn’t well equipped to fight it off.

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