ORANGE COUNTY – Three swim team members from Orange and Durham Counties have tested positive for a water-borne parasite and an additional three have reported symptoms, according to the Orange County Health Department.

Cryptosporidiosis is a disease caused by a parasite, Cryptosporidium (Crypto), that can be transmitted from one swimmer to another in  pools.

The first confirmed case was reported last week. In response, a number of pools in Orange and Durham Counties, including the Chapel Hill Aquatic Center, voluntarily took the control measure of hyperchlorinating their pools.

Dr. Colleen Bridger, Director of the Orange County Health Department, said they are encouraging pools to hyperchlorinate weekly. These measures are only effective if infected individuals do not reenter the pool for two weeks after their last diarrheal event.

Bridger 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.

“But we have talked about and did say in the letter to the swimmers that if we cannot get control of this outbreak pretty quickly, the next step will be to look at cancelling swim meets and potentially closing pools,” Bridger said. “We don’t want to do that, but we don’t want more people getting sick.”

Bridger said that they are not naming which pools the infected swimmers entered because all area pools have potentially been exposed.

“We want the message to be that any [area] indoor pool could be a potential problem.”

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.

“Number one: If you have diarrhea, stay out of the pool and go to the doctor to make sure that it isn’t Crypto,” Bridger said. “Number two: If you are diagnosed with Crypto, you absolutely must stay out of the pool for two weeks after your diarrhea goes away.”

The elderly, young children, and pregnant women may develop serious illness that require hospitalization. People with weakened immune systems can experience life-threatening illness if infected with Crypto.

In addition to working with the pool management, letters were sent to parents and coaches of the swim teams affected informing them of the illness, preventive measures they should take, and asking for compliance.

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 Bridger.