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6 Ann Arbor pools shut down, treated for parasite found in fecal matter

Detroit Free Press logo Detroit Free Press 10/19/2019 Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press

Six pools in Ann Arbor have been shut down in the past month to be treated for a parasite called Cryptosporidium, which can cause prolonged diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and fever, and is notoriously contagious and hard to kill.

Four pools in the University of Michigan's Canham Natatorium were shut down Sept. 30 and again Oct. 10 for treatment, and two Ann Arbor high school pools — Pioneer and Skyline — were shut down Oct. 16 and Oct. 17, according to Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, a spokeswoman for the Washtenaw County Health Department.  

So far, there have been 10 confirmed cases of Cryptosporidium tied to University of Michigan pools, Ringler-Cerniglia said. 

Commonly known as Crypto, the microscopic parasite can be spread to others when a person who is infected swims in a pool with others, shedding eggs in fecal matter, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.   

Millions of eggs can be released in a single bowel movement. If a person hasn't washed properly after a bowel movement or defecates in the pool, the eggs can get into the water and then be swallowed by other swimmers, the CDC reports.  

"We are not aware of any cases affiliated with potential exposures to the Ann Arbor Public Schools pools," Ringler-Cerniglia said, but efforts are under way to alert anyone who might have been swimming Sept. 30-Oct. 16 at Pioneer High School or Sept. 30-Oct. 17 at Skyline High School that they could have been exposed. 

"All pools are following procedures for decontamination," Ringler-Cerniglia said, and notification letters have been sent to swim coaches and recreational swimmers who might have been exposed. 

After two independent lab tests, the University of Michigan Environmental Health & Safety office determined on Oct. 15 that the pools at the Canham Natatorium are now safe for competition, according to a tweet posted Wednesday to the official Twitter account of the University of Michigan Swimming & Diving team.  

But that wasn't enough to convince the swim teams at the University of Virginia and the University of Tennessee, which were scheduled to compete in a meet in Ann Arbor over the weekend. 

"We were informed by both Tennessee and Virginia that they will be pulling out of this weekend's scheduled meet due to concerns over pool safety," the team tweeted on Wednesday. "The health and safety of all our competitors is always our top priority." 

Instead, U-M swimmers and divers hosted in intrasquad meet Friday night. 

Cryptosporidium is a microscopic, worm-like parasite encased in a protective shell. © Arizona Republic Cryptosporidium is a microscopic, worm-like parasite encased in a protective shell.

Crypto is a notoriously difficult parasite to eliminate for a few reasons, Ringler-Cerniglia said. 

"It's tricky," she said. "When someone's sick with it, symptoms can sort of come and go, and you might feel perfectly fine. If you haven't been tested or diagnosed or really gotten a lot of information on it, you may not realize you're creating potential exposure for other folks.

"If someone's been ill with it, for up to a couple weeks after that, their body can continue to shed the parasite. There are little tiny eggs and they're very hard-shelled and resistant. And so those can be shed from the body in the pool and unfortunately, normal levels of chlorine don't kill it rapidly so they can survive for several days. So someone who's been ill unwittingly swims in the pool and then other folks are exposed because it doesn't get killed even though there's chlorine in the pool."

It takes extremely high levels of chlorine to kill the parasite, according to the CDC.

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"The treatment procedure is one where they essentially bring up the levels of chlorine super, super high for a period of time," said Ringler-Cerniglia. "And when they can be assured that the parasites have been killed, then they bring it back down in to normal levels. It takes some time to get those normal levels."

In those who do have symptoms, they can come and go and last for just a few days to four weeks or more. 

Young children, pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, cancer and transplant patients taking immunosuppressive drugs, may develop serious or potentially fatal illness from the parasite.  

The CDC reports that the number of Crypto cases in the U.S. is on the rise. There's been an average 13% increase in the number of cases each year from 2009-2017.

Contact Kristen Jordan Shamus: 313-222-5997 or kshamus@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus. 

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: 6 Ann Arbor pools shut down, treated for parasite found in fecal matter

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