Archive for Sunday, July 11, 2004

Crypto scare closes pool

Aquatic Center undergoes hyperchlorination, testing after Saturday incident

July 11, 2004


Still wary after a cryptosporidium outbreak last year that spread across northeast Kansas, city officials Saturday closed the Lawrence Aquatic Center after a child in the pool was found to have diarrhea.

The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department was notified, and the city hyperchlorinated the pool at 727 Ky. as a precaution against the parasite, said Fred DeVictor, city parks and recreation director.

The Indoor Aquatic Center near Free State High School, site this weekend of the Roger Hill Invitational Swim Meet, was not affected.

A new policy this year calls for the city to notify health officials and take action whenever diarrhea is found in the pool, DeVictor said. The parasite is passed through oral ingestion of even microscopic amounts of tainted feces.

"We anticipate everything is going to be OK," DeVictor said, adding that the pool was expected to reopen today.

It was a year ago this month that the first cases of crypto were diagnosed in Lawrence. A member of the Kansas University swim team was among the first victims.

The outbreak led to nearly 100 laboratory-confirmed cases in seven northeast Kansas counties, with 89 of the cases in Douglas County. There may have been several hundred more unconfirmed cases, federal health officials reported early this year. No one died from the outbreak, although cryptosporidiosis can be fatal.

Cryptosporidium is a microscopic parasite that causes diarrhea, loose or watery stool, stomach cramps, upset stomach and a slight fever. The parasite can be fatal to patients with weakened immune systems, such as the young, elderly or people with HIV. More than two-thirds of those who contract cryptosporidiosis are children.

Last year, the Health Department came under criticism because it didn't alert the public about the parasite until late August, when authorities closed swimming pools and 11 cases had been confirmed.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which assisted local officials in handling the outbreak, later said the illness' spread might have been slowed if health authorities had alerted the community sooner.

Earlier this year, city and health officials launched a public education effort about the potential for crypto problems.

On Saturday, pool employees talked to the mother of the child, who confirmed her child had diarrhea, DeVictor said.

"We tried to do some educational things to let people know that if your child's in that situation, we prefer that they not go swimming," he said.

Shortly after the pool opened at 1 p.m. Saturday, the diarrhea was discovered and the pool was shut down, said Jimmy Gibbs, aquatic division supervisor.

The process of hyperchlorination, or increasing the level of chlorine in the water to 20 parts per million, was conducted.

"If there is anything in the water, it won't live very long," Gibbs said.

The walls of the pool were scrubbed, and skimmer housings and skimmer baskets were cleaned and brushed. Filters also were washed and disinfected, he said.

The hyperchlorination process takes eight hours, then the chlorine levels are brought back down, Gibbs said. The Health Department was to test the water to make sure chlorine levels were back to normal.

"We have policies in place now to handle something like this, and everything worked like it should," he said.

Although Saturday's temperatures were above 90 degrees, only about 125 people were at the pool at 1:15 p.m. when the decision was made to close, Gibbs said. Had the incident not occurred so close after the pool opened, he said, there could have been as many as 900 patrons at the pool.

It is "highly unlikely" anyone who was in the pool Saturday afternoon will become sick because the problem was identified quickly, Gibbs said. If a child does come down with diarrhea or gets sick, a doctor should be consulted, he said.

"It's one of those 'better be safe than sorry'" situations, he said.

Gibbs urged people going swimming to practice good hygiene and common sense. People should wash their hands and take a shower before swimming, he said. Swimmers should take bathroom breaks and not swallow pool water.

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