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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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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Odd New Marijuana-Related Illness Sending People to the ER

There are few medical conditions marijuana can’t help, including nausea. But reports of a new marijuana-related illness are on the rise, characterized by cyclic episodes of nausea and vomiting. [1]

The illness, deemed cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, or CHS, is an illness acquired by people who, well, smoke a lot of weed. It is linked to heavy, prolonged cannabis use. The only remedy appears to be a hot shower, and it has become the key warning sign for physicians trying to diagnose the syndrome. In fact, many CHS patients have a compulsive need to shower. [2]

Vomiting cycles typically last about 30 minutes, but can resume if the person starts smoking marijuana again.

Physicians say people come into the emergency room sometimes 3 or 4 times before finally being correctly diagnosed, because the symptoms so closely resemble stomach bugs. [1]

Emergency rooms in Colorado have seen a steady rise in puking pot users in recent years, according to Dr. Kenneth Heard, an ER doctor in the state, who said:

“It is certainly something that, before legalization, we almost never saw. Now we are seeing it quite frequently.”

Denver physician Dr. Eric Lavona said:

“These folks are really suffering. People can get pretty sick.”

Heard and a team of doctors documented this rise in CHS cases in a 2015 paper published in Academic Emergency MedicineThey looked at 120,000 patient visits – half of which were studied in 2008 to 2009 (the “pre-liberalization” period of marijuana) and the other from 2010 to 2011. The team discovered that the number of patients exhibiting cyclical vomiting doubled in that time frame. [2]

Cases of CHS have also been reported in other states where pot has been legalized, including the District of Columbia. [1]

Doctors are getting fairly good at diagnosing CHS in states where marijuana is legal, but patients in states without legalization would be hard-pressed to get a correct diagnosis. Doctors in those states are more likely to diagnose patients with Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome, which has nearly identical symptoms.

A correct diagnosis is important, though, because CHS can cause kidney failure in extreme cases. But the good news is stopping cannabis use ends symptoms within days. [3]

Heard explained:

“Patients are given IV fluids and medication to resolve the vomiting and help with the pain. But the treatment really is to stop using marijuana, or at least cut back severely, and that’s really the only way to make it better.”

It is unknown how many people have CHS, because the syndrome was only discovered 10 years ago.

Heard said:

“The science behind it is not clear. The most likely cause is that people using marijuana frequently and in high doses have changes in the receptors in their bodies, and those receptors become dysregulated in some way, and it starts causing pain.”

It’s something to keep in mind when you’re packing that third or fourth bowl.

Sources:

[1] The Daily Caller

[2] Inverse

[3] The Huffington Post


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