After pool parasite outbreak, Wake County works to keep waters safe

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – In several weeks, public pools across central North Carolina will open for Memorial Day weekend – if they haven’t already.

But this year, there’s a growing concern about a parasite that forced the hyper-chlorination of 39 pools at 17 locations in Wake County in the summer of 2016.

Sadie Harper and her children.

CBS North Carolina’s Beairshelle Edmé worked to learn what county officials are doing to keep you safe at the pool this summer.

For Sadie Harper and her three kids, they already have a cautious eye out for the pool.

“It never occurred to me before that instance that our health would be at risk from going to the pool,” the Raleigh single mom of three explained.

Harper said she and her then 3-year-old daughter fell ill after time at their complex’s pool.

She described having non-stop diarrhea, poor appetite and low grade fevers.

The county manages 1,175 public pools and county health officials are used to seeing certain issues.

But in 2016 they saw a spike of the parasite, cryptosporidium, better known as “crypto.”

RELATED: Wake County officials warn of swimming pool parasite

There were 62 cases of crypto reported in 2016 and that’s compared to 13 cases in 2015.

Symptoms of crypto include extreme diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, weight loss and more – all of which can last one to two weeks.


But there is very little Wake County can do to prevent the parasite.

“It’s one of the biggest recreational problems that we have,” explained Ruth Lassister, manager of the Wake County Communicable Diseases Program.

She confirmed there is no formula or no chemical that can be added to a pool to prevent the spread of crypto.

Crypto is in a person’s gut and when someone’s sick, the parasite becomes present in their stool.

The water becomes contaminated once that stool enters the water and crypto spreads quickly.

“You end up feeling kind of helpless,” Harper described. “This thing that you can’t prevent from happening and it’s going to happen whether you want it to or not.”

(Source: CDC)

Management at Harper’s apartment complex told CBS North Carolina there were no reported cases of crypto and know of no issues.

Wake County officials still aren’t sure what caused the spike in crypto cases last year.

“You know, you do rely on them to know these things and to ensure that nobody gets sick because a lot of people use these pools. They’re all over the city,” Harper said.

Like the Harpers, many families will ride out the illness and avoid seeing their doctor and that’s part of the problem.

Officials can only rely on reports from doctors and pool managers with no way to test a pool for crypto.

However, Wake County’s Environmental Services Department said they are working with pool staff to monitor and clean all public pools.

“This particular Summer, because of the crypto outbreak last year, we’re trying to educate and remind operators that regular hyper-chlorination is important to try and prevent cryptosporidium from possibly getting in their pool,” said Jessica Sanders with the Wake County Pool Inspection Team.

So what are the best ways your family can avoid spreading crypto?

“Best prevention? Don’t pee, don’t poop, no dirt in the pool and we won’t have near the problems,” Lassiter explained.

Signs will also be posted at public pools to remind you of healthy swimming habits.

Despite this, the Harpers, who love to swim, are still anxious.

But now, Harper knows the symptoms to look out for both before and after her kids jump into the pool this summer.

If you feel ill after time at the pool or know you’ve been diagnosed with crypto, you can contact Wake County.

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