If your kids have ever gotten diarrhea after a day at the pool, you're not alone. In fact, according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the number of outbreaks of the infection that causes watery diarrhea, stomach cramps and nausea or vomiting has tripled since 2004, and doubled from 16 outbreaks in 2014 to 32 in 2016.
The culprit: cryptosporidium. (It even has it's own nickname for short: Crypto.) This disgusting microscopic parasite is able to stay alive for days, even if a pool is treated with normal levels of chlorine. So if there's been a reported outbreak in your area or even a single case of a diarrhea or vomiting accident in the pool, the CDC says the pool should close down, disinfect with high levels of chlorine and test clean for feces.
Three states in particular had a lot of cases in 2016; Alabama, Arizona and Ohio led the Crypto outbreak crowd with more than 2,300 people diagnosed with an illness related to the parasitic infection. According to Michele Hlavsa, the study's author, if you have Crypto, that means you've ingested contaminated pool water, drinking water or food. Ew.
And don't think you're safe at the water park, either. When the CDC interviewed victims from a 2016 Crypto outbreak in Ohio, a whopping 43 people fessed up to swimming in public pools and water parks (yes, that's plural) while they were still sick. COME ON, GUYS.
There's basically one way to prevent getting this nasty illness that could potentially ruin up to three weeks of your summer: Don't swallow the water.
Hlavsa also offers up some common-sense advice. If you or your kids have diarrhea, nobody should be swimming. And even if you aren't the one with diarrhea and you're visiting a public swimming facility, there are a few other things you can do to prevent the spread of Crypto. Make sure you rinse off before and after getting in the pool, take your kids for regular potty breaks and be sure to change diapers only in the bathroom away from the pool.
The incubation period is 2-10 days, so if someone in your household gets diarrhea within that period after visiting the pool or an aquatic center, you should get to the doctor to get checked out. You shouldn't take an OTC anti-diarrheal medication without consulting your doctor if you think it's likely that you've got Crypto, the CDC says.
If you're unlucky enough to catch a Crypto infection in your household, the rule is that you should wait to swim again for two weeks from the last day that symptoms were present. Yes, a FULL two weeks. Sorry not sorry, but the rest of us don't want diarrhea either.
Young children are most at risk since they're more likely to swallow water, and also have less-developed immune systems. They're also more at risk of dehydration due to fluid loss if they end up with Crypto-induced diarrhea.
One final piece of advice: Never, ever open your mouth underwater in a public pool or water park again. Experts say they don't know whether the rise in Crypto infections is because there are actually more of them, or if it's just because there's better testing available nowadays to help identify and diagnose cases. Either way, we're not taking any chances.