In the wake of a 2007 Cryptosporidium outbreak linked to recreational swimming waters in Utah, a statewide educational push seems to have increased residents’ knowledge about healthy swimming practices.
In the spring of 2008, state and local public health agencies launched the educational campaign in an effort to prevent a repeat of the previous summer’s outbreak, which had sickened approximately 5,700 people. Officials also instituted new protocols for fecal incident responses and installed secondary disinfection systems at pools and waterparks.
The safe swimming initiative included a website, two TV advertisements, public service radio announcements and poolside posters. One such sign warned consumers that “A Swimming Pool is Like a Community Bathtub.”
According to a Utah Department of Health survey conducted from July through September of 2008, a full 96.1 percent of respondents knew that “it is not OK to swim if you have diarrhea.”
A separate national survey taken in 2009 revealed that 100 percent of respondents in Utah and only 78.4 percent of residents of other states knew that staying out of the pool when sick with diarrhea prevents others from getting sick.
The Cryptosporidium that caused the 2007 outbreak was thought to have originated in treated recreational waters before spreading from sick individuals to others through contaminated fecal matter.
“Because swimmers are the primary source of Cryptosporidium contamination, healthy swimming campaigns are needed to increase awareness and practice of healthy swimming behaviors…i.e. swimming while ill with diarrhea can lead to gross contamination of recreational water,” notes the report on the campaign’s results, released by the Centers for Disease Control Thursday.
Cryptosporidium (also known as Crypto) can live in treated water at chlorine levels standard for pool water. Concentrations of chlorine needed to fully kill Crypto are too high for human contact.
Utah residents were more knowledgeable about other swimming dangers as well. According to the national survey, 96.4 percent of them knew that “not swallowing water you swim in” is a healthy swimming behavior, while only 85.7 percent of people in other regions knew this.
However, Utah residents were less aware that “making sure that pools are treated” before swimming is a water safety step. Only 49.3 percent of Utahans were aware of this, compared with the 80.6 percent of residents of other states who knew to check that pools were treated.
In the results of the Utah educational campaign – published in the CDC’s May 18 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report – it is noted that no recreational water-associated outbreaks were reported in Utah during the period between 2008 and 2011.