July 24, 2008

Fort Worth Swimming Hole Tests Positive for Parasite

By Alex Branch, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas

Jul. 24--FORT WORTH -- Water samples taken from Burger's Lake tested positive for Cryptosporidium, a waterborne parasite confirmed to have sickened at least 20 people, health officials announced Wednesday.

Health officials have suspected the popular Fort Worth swimming hole of playing a role in the outbreak but could not confirm it until tests were completed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Officials said the parasite contamination most likely came from an infected swimmer excreting waste into the 1-acre, spring-fed lake, said Vanassa Joseph, Tarrant County Public Health spokeswoman.

The parasite, commonly known as crypto, is found in human and animal fecal matter. It thrives in bodies of water and is resistant to normal chlorine disinfection levels.

If ingested, crypto can sicken people for up to two weeks with stomach cramps and diarrhea.

Tarrant County Public Health officials said they are working with the lake operator to eliminate the parasite from the water.

The operators voluntarily closed the lake last week after the outbreak was reported.

Phone calls to Burger's Lake since last week have not been returned.

The voice mailbox was full Wednesday.

Health officials have said that the lake operators are cooperating and that the park appears well-maintained.

Crypto update What will happen next? Tarrant County Public Health officials said Burger's Lake will be hyperchlorinated, which means significantly increasing the amount of chlorine to "shock" the water. Crypto is resistant to normal chlorine levels. Health officials will monitor the process. When "levels acceptable for swimming have been reached," the lake can reopen, according to the agency.

Are other pools safe? Officials said they have no reason to suspect that crypto has contaminated other bodies of water. However, it can be spread for up to two weeks after an infected person's symptoms are gone. Officials have recommended that the operators of public pools hyperchlorinate as a precaution.

Fort Worth and NRH{-2}0, the water park in North Richland Hills, treated their water last weekend.

Arlington closed its pools Wednesday and was expected to reopen them today.

The Keller Pointe water park was hyperchlorinated Wednesday and will reopen at noon today.

How common is crypto? Crypto is recognized as one of the most common causes of waterborne disease in humans in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The parasite is found in every region of the country and throughout the world. In the U.S., an estimated 300,000 cases of crypto occur each year.

"This shows just how important it is for swimmers to follow healthy swimming guidelines," said Vanassa Joseph, Tarrant County Public Health spokeswoman. "If you have diarrhea, you don't need to be in the water."

By the numbers 20 confirmed cased of cryptosporidiosis

1-61 age range of infected people

700 calls received by health officials from the public since the outbreak was reported

600 of those reported diarrhea, though officials said they cannot assume that all are crypto cases


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