ORANGE COUNTY – Fourteen swimmers from Orange and Durham Counties have exhibited symptoms or have tested positive for a water-borne parasite, according to the Orange County Health Department.

The first case was reported the week of December 6.

Stacy Shelp, Public Information Director for the Orange County Health Department, said that Cryptosporidiosis is a disease caused by a parasite, Cryptosporidium (Crypto), that can be transmitted from one swimmer to another in pools.

“We have actually had a few more cases, but they are all still linked, which isn’t a big surprise particularly with the incubation period being up to twelve days, we know that there may be some coming in since the hyperchlorination began,” Shelp said.

A number of pools in Orange and Durham Counties, including the Chapel Hill Aquatic Center, voluntarily took the control measure of hyperchlorinating their pools. It is also recommended that they hyperchlorinate each week until the spread of the parasite is contained.

“Based on incubation periods and when the illnesses first started appearing, etc., it won’t be until after that time frame that we will really know how effective that [hyperchlorinating] has been [at stopping the spread of the illness],” Shelp said. “The good news is that we are moving into the holidays and will see less and less people in the pools, so that will really assist in curbing any additional spread.”

Due to the nature of crypto and how easily it can be contracted, Shelp said no specific pools have been identified as the source of the parasite.

“We are still piecing together what pools people have been in and when they have been there,” Shelp said. “We just working with those pools to hyperchlorinate and make sure that is continuing. There’s no specific location implicated in where this began or where it spread.”

Crypto is found in the fecal matter of an infected person. It can survive in water for a number of days, even in a properly chlorinated pool. Symptoms usually develop within 12 days of exposure and include: watery diarrhea, stomach pain and cramps, and a low fever. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, and dehydration.

Hyperchlorination is only effective if infected individuals do not reenter the pool for two weeks after their last diarrheal event.

Shelp said health officials did consider closing area pools as a precaution, but were sensitive to the fact that it would negatively impact swim season and athletes who are being considered for college recruitment.

With the addition of new cases, the Health Departments in Orange and Durham Counties are asking all people who use local pools to comply with the following prevention and control measures:

  1. STAY OUT OF THE POOL while you continue to have diarrhea or have had diarrhea anytime in the past two weeks
  2. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms, see your medical provider and ask about testing for Cryptosporidium
  3. If your stool test is negative for Crypto and you no longer have diarrhea, you may return to swimming

Failure to follow these control measures can put others at risk for serious illness, according to OC Health Department.