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Of Puddles in Pools

You'd think diarrhea would keep sick swimmers on land -- it doesn't

If you were suffering from a spell of recurrent diarrhea, would you swim in a public pool or spend the day at a water park?

A surprising number of people do just that. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 10,000 Americans developed diarrheal illness from pools, water parks and spas from 1989 to 1998. A wire service story in The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that up to 18 percent of people surveyed continued to swim or bathe in public facilities while suffering from diarrhea -- and that can spread the illness to others.

In many of these cases, the facilities can't be blamed for not chlorinating their water properly because one infectious parasite known as Cryptosporidium parvum can resist chlorine -- even in undiluted bleach. It's also small enough that it passes through many water filters. Swallowing even a bit of contaminated water is enough to cause severe diarrhea that can last two weeks or more.

People couldn't withstand the disinfectants needed to kill all Cryptosporidium, so the best way to reduce infection is to prevent contamination of public water. "We need to get people to think differently about when they have diarrhea," says Michael Beach, an infectious disease specialist at the CDC.

The Medical College of Wisconsin reprints tips from the CDC on avoiding water-related infections in pools or other public places. The tips include specific advice for parents to prevent their children from spreading an unwanted diarrheal infection or catching one from someone else.

Pools and hot tubs in the home can also spread illness, although in these cases, faulty automated chlorinators are the typical culprit, a previous HealthDay story advises. Even people who don't drink contaminated water can develop a painful skin rash that sometimes appears as "hot tub buns."

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