Diarrhea-Inducing Parasite in Public Pools: How to Protect Yourself

People pee in swimming pools – that probably doesn’t come as a shock to you. You tuck it in the back of your mind when you go swimming; but you when you accidentally swallow a mouthful of pool water, you know you’re getting more than H2O and chlorine. Well, there’s another threat lurking in public swimming pools. It’s a diarrhea-inducing parasite called cryptosporidium, and federal officials said back in May that cases of the bug are on the rise.

Source: CDC

Outbreaks of cryptosporidium (Crypto) doubled between 2014 and 2016, including three that occurred last year, according to the CDC. There were at least 32 outbreaks in 2016, compared to 16 outbreaks in 2014, and 13 the year before. [1]

In a statement, the agency said:

“The parasite can spread when people swallow something that has come into contact with the feces (poop) of a sick person, such as pool water contaminated with diarrhea.” [1]

Suddenly Netflix and A/C sound very inviting.

The CDC added:

“Crypto is the most common cause of diarrheal illness and outbreaks linked to swimming pools or water playgrounds because it is not easily killed by chlorine and can survive up to 10 days in properly treated water.

Swallowing just a mouthful of water contaminated with Crypto can make otherwise healthy people sick for up to three weeks with watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, or vomiting, and can lead to dehydration.” [1]

Read: Watch Out: Thousands of Pools Close Due to Health Violations

Don’t rely on chlorine to clean up the poop: Even proper chlorination doesn’t kill Crypto. [2]

The most heavily-affected state was Ohio, with 1,940 people being sickened by the parasite in 2016, compared to less than 600 in any previous year.

It’s not clear why Crypto cases are on the rise. The CDC said:

“It is not clear whether the number of outbreaks has increased or whether better surveillance and laboratory methods are leading to better outbreak detection.”[2]

The agency wrote that the youngest swimmers are the most likely to infect pools with Crypto.

“Young swimmers aged under 5 years are more likely to contaminate the water because they are more likely to have inadequate toileting and hygiene skills; therefore, prevention efforts should focus on their parents.” [1]

Source: Nature

Regardless of age, many people continue swimming even when they’re symptomatic.

Once a pool has been infected, Crypto spreads easily and is stubborn against efforts to eradicate it. In chlorinated water, Crypto can survive for up to 10 days, and it only takes a small gulp of water to become infected. The only way to rid a swimming pool of the parasite is to close the pool and treat it with extremely high, extremely toxic levels of chlorine. [2], [3]

Michele Hlavsa, R.N., M.P.H., chief of CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, said in a statement:

“To help protect your family and friends from Crypto and other diarrhea-causing germs, do not swim or let your kids swim if sick with diarrhea. Protect yourself from getting sick by not swallowing the water in which you swim.” [3]

(Hopefully, if you’re an adult, this goes without saying.)

The CDC also offered these tips for staying Crypto-free this summer:

  • If diarrhea is found to be caused by Crypto, wait 2 weeks after symptoms have subsided before going swimming.
  • Rinse off in the shower before getting in the water to help remove any germs on your body that could contaminate the pool.
  • Take children on frequent bathroom breaks, and check diapers in a diaper-changing area, not right next to the pool.

Sources:

[1] NBC News

[2] The Washington Post

[3] CBS News

CDC

Nature


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1.7 Million Children Die from Environmental Pollution Each Year

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released some new statistics concerning the dangers posed by air pollution. According to the global health watchdog, environmental pollutants – including unsafe water, lack of sanitation, poor hygiene practices, indoor and outdoor pollution, and injuries – claim the lives of 1.7 million children under 5 years old each year. [1]

These numbers mean that pollutants are the cause of death for 1 in 4 children 1 month to 5 years old.

The WHO says that the most common causes of deaths among children can be prevented via interventions already available to the communities most affected. Insecticide-treated bed nets (to start), clean cooking fuels, and better access to clean water can prevent some of the deadliest child illnesses, such as diarrhea, malaria, and pneumonia.

Dr. Margaret Chan, the WHO director-general, said in a statement:

“A polluted environment is a deadly one — particularly for young children. Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water.”

Read: Toxic Nanoparticle Air Pollution Found in Human Brain Tissue

Looming Threats

Infants exposed to indoor or outdoor air pollution, along with second-hand tobacco smoke, are at great risk for pneumonia, as well as asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases for the rest of their lives. These exposures often begin in the womb.

The WHO report also highlights the increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer from exposure to air pollution.

In a companion report titled “Don’t Pollute my Future! The Impact of the Environment on Children’s Health,” states that every year:

  • 570,000 children under age 5 die from respiratory infections that are caused by indoor and outdoor air pollution – pneumonia and second-hand smoke, e.g.
  • 361,000 children under age 5 die from diarrhea, due to poor access to sanitation, clean water, and hygiene
  • 270,000 children die during their first month of life due to premature birth and other conditions that can be prevented by access to hygiene, clean water, and sanitation, as well as a reduction in air pollution
  • 200,000 children under age 5 die from malaria, which can be prevented by certain environmental actions – reducing mosquitoes’ breeding sites, or covering drinking-water storage, for example
  • 200,000 children under age 5 die from accidental injuries attributable to the environment, such as poisonings, falls, and drownings.

Some of the emerging hazards highlighted by the WHO include improperly recycled electronic and electrical waste, such as old mobile phones. These objects expose children to toxins that can cause reduced intelligence, lung damage, attention deficits, and cancer. The United Nations agency says these types of waste are expected to increase by 19% between 2014 and 2018, to 50 million metric tons by 2018.

Global temperatures and carbon dioxide levels are rising due to climate change, the WHO says, triggering an increase in pollen growth that is associated with increased rates of asthma in children. Factors such as air pollution, second-hand smoke, and indoor mold and dampness only worsen the condition in children.

Source: CNN

Read: Thousands of Lives Could Be Saved by Stricter Air Pollution Standards

There are things that regular citizens can do to help protect children’s health, such as not exposing kids to second-hand smoke. But the WHO says in its report that multiple government sectors can cooperate to improve the following:

  • Housing: Do not use lead paint or unsafe building materials. Remove pests and mold. Use clean fuel for cooking and heating (not coal, e.g.).
  • Schools: Provide safe sanitation and hygiene, and a noise- and pollution-free environment. Promote good nutrition.
  • Health facilities: Ensure safe water, sanitation, and hygiene. Provide reliable electricity.
  • Urban planning: Create green spaces and safe paths for walking and cycling.
  • Transport: Reduce vehicle emissions and increase reliable public transport.
  • Agriculture: Reduce the use of hazardous pesticides. Eliminate child labor.
  • Industry: Safely manage hazardous waste and reduce the use of harmful chemicals.
  • Health sector: Monitor health outcomes. Educate the public about environmental health effects and prevention of adverse effects.

Source:

World Health Organization

Image Source:

CNN


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Are Food Allergies Increasing? Experts Say They Just Don’t Know

More Americans claim to have food allergies than ever before, but a report published in 2016 from the National Academy of Sciences says that it’s hard to know how many people in the U.S. actually have food allergies. Although many healthcare professionals involved in patient care agree that an increase has occurred, specifying its actual extent is complicated by factors such as inconsistent data or studies that use variable methods.

Part of the problem is that many people self-diagnose and can easily misinterpret their symptoms. Food allergies can be mistaken for gluten sensitivity or lactose intolerance, e.g., neither of which fits the medical definition of an allergy. [1]

Dr. Virginia Stallings, a board-certified nutrition pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the chair of the committee that wrote the report, said:

“There are a lot of misconceptions about what a food allergy is.”

One of the ways in which a misinterpretation arises is when parents introduce milk or another new food into their child’s diet, and then see that the child has an upset stomach or other gastrointestinal symptoms. These symptoms could indicate lactose intolerance, but the parents may suspect a food allergy. In reality, food intolerance and food allergy are two different conditions.

Stallings said:

“The reason food allergy symptoms are often confused with other [conditions] such as lactose intolerance is because there’s an overlap in some of the symptoms.”

The panel estimated that about 5% of U.S. children have legitimate food allergies, and wrote that:

“Eight food groups are considered to be major allergens. These are milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, and crustacean shellfish.” [2]

Stallings added:

“Questions persist about whether food allergy prevalence has been on the rise within the past two decades and why. The current data do not unequivocally support the occurrence of such a rise.”

The Definition of a Food Allergy

Allergies are caused by an immune response to a normally-harmless food or other substance. Allergies typically cause hives and swelling or gastrointestinal distress. Severe food allergies can be life-threatening. In contrast, someone with lactose intolerance can’t easily digest the natural sugar in milk, and the condition is not life-threatening – just highly uncomfortable. [1]

Source: Personal Health News

As the American Academy of Pediatrics points out, “while lactose intolerance can cause a great deal of discomfort, it will not produce a life-threatening reaction such as anaphylaxis.” [1]

Anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) can cause someone to go into shock within seconds or minutes of contact with the food or substance (latex, e.g.) that he or she is allergic to. A sudden drop in blood pressure occurs; and the airways narrow, which blocks normal breathing. Other symptoms of anaphylactic shock can include a rapid, weak pulse a skin rash, and nausea and vomiting. [3]

Read: 18 Million Americans Suffer from Gluten Intolerance

Another problem making it difficult to determine how many people have food allergies is the fact that diagnosing food allergies can be complicated. Stallings said that there’s no single skin or blood test that lets physicians accurately determine whether a person has an allergy to a specific food. [1]

Advice for Parents

Parents should seek immediate medical attention if their child’s lips swell or the child has difficulty breathing. When the symptoms are milder, parents should see an expert, such as a pediatric allergist, instead of declaring that the child has an allergy.

Bruce Lanser, who directs the pediatric food allergy program at National Jewish Health in Denver, said:

“We unfortunately see kids avoiding a food unnecessarily because of some fear of a potential allergy.”

The best diagnostic tool at experts’ disposal is an oral food challenge, according to Lanser. Under medical supervision, patients eat small amounts of the food they are suspected of being allergic to. Lanser explained:

“We start with a small amount of food and slowly give increasing doses up to a full serving.”

If the patient has a reaction during the test, “obviously we stop and treat,” he said.

The authors of the report wrote:

“The patient’s medical history and other test results, such as from a skin prick test, can suggest the likelihood of a food allergy, but in some cases an oral food challenge – which involves a gradual, medically supervised ingestion of increasingly larger doses of the food being tested as a possible allergen – is needed to confirm diagnosis. ” [2]

That’s a lot of work to confirm an allergy, so people often just go on a hunch.

Lanser said he tests his patients once a year to see if they’ve outgrown their food allergies. And they often have. Said Lanser:

“Milk and egg allergy are commonly outgrown. About 1 in 5 people outgrow their peanut allergy.” [1]

Food Allergy Safety – 4 Recommendations

The authors of the new report recommend more research to determine the prevalence of food allergies. The report also includes many recommendations for addressing food-allergy safety:

  • 1. Kids who have severe symptoms of a food allergy may require an epinephrine injection. In many schools, only a school nurse is trained to give shots. The report recommends that other administrators and teachers also be trained to administer epinephrine in case of emergency.
  • 3. Health professionals and the public should receive better education concerning differences between true food allergies and other disorders (lactose intolerance and gluten sensitivity, e.g.) that are often mistaken for allergies.
  • 4. Restaurant workers, first responders, and others should receive better training in helping people avoid foods they’re allergic to, and in treating severe allergic reactions with epinephrine, often sold as an EpiPen. [4]

Sources:

[1] NPR

[2] NBC News

[3] Mayo Clinic

[4] The Boston Globe

Personal Health News


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