It sounds like a B-movie horror show, but this was a reality for my family two years ago.
We spent most of June 2016 in the water — swim team, annual passes to a local water park and pool dates at friends’ houses. It was a splash! Until July.
That’s when we took off on our first family road trip to southern Colorado, with planned stops in Telluride, Ouray and Durango. We were looking forward to 10 days of cooler weather, mountain air and exploring a different state.
Our first night in Colorado, Jack complained of a stomachache. We treated him with the perfect balance of compassion and dismissal. You know what I’m talking about — supplying a bucket (just in case) with a “Let’s go ride the gondola up the mountain!” attitude. With no fever, and only getting “sick” once, we thought he was on the mend. Then we saw him doubled over in the toy store, completely uninterested in vacation souvenirs and complaining he was in great pain.
Appendicitis runs in my husband’s family, so to be safe, we immediately walked to the emergency room at the Telluride Regional Medical Center. After a quick medical exam and an all-clear, we were on our way with a children’s Zofran prescription (for nausea) just in case.
By day seven, Jack upgraded his appetite to solid foods. When he finally asked for a hamburger instead of broth and dry toast, we declared it a vacation miracle. Jack was back to his normal self, and we were all feeling great — until we pulled into the driveway at home. That’s when I noticed my stomach was upset.
On and off for the next five weeks, life was not the same. At first, I thought I was fighting a virus. Finally, on day 21, while scrolling Facebook, I clicked on a news article about an outbreak of cryptosporidium at a local water park. All the facts added up. Jack and I had been there and shared some of these same symptoms: nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea.
Never have I been so relieved and grossed out at the same time. Crypto is caused by microscopic parasites. I can’t even write that without feeling sick again. It’s caused when the parasite enters your body, travels to your small intestine and burrows into the walls. The only way to shed it is, well, unpleasant.
Crypto is spread when a person swallows something that has come in contact with the feces of a person infected with crypto. It can happen after changing a diaper or swallowing recreational water from a swimming pool, splash pad, lake or pond. Certain strains of cryptosporidium are chlorine-resistant, so water parks and pools are searching for more safeguards. Some facilities are using ultraviolet light filters that are said to help deactivate it.
There is nothing a relatively healthy person can do to treat the parasite. It basically has to run its course. Luckily, my husband and daughter were never affected. Jack and I were likely more susceptible to the infection because our immune systems are compromised. (We both have asthma.)
We’re still treading water when it comes to water parks and public pools. We understand a lot of new safety measures are being taken, but it’s taking time for us to slowly dip our toes back in the water.
Tips to avoid spreading cryptosporidium and recreational water illnesses:
• Protect others by never swimming when you are ill with diarrhea.
• If Crypto is diagnosed, do not swim for at least two weeks after diarrhea stops.
• Do not swallow pool water.
• Take young children on bathroom breaks hourly and check diapers every 30-60 minutes.
• Wash hands frequently with clean, running water and soap; scrub for at least 20 seconds.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention