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Faecal contamination in swimming pools linked to rise in gastro bugs

Faecal contamination in swimming pools linked to rise in gastro bugs
May 8, 2012

Cryptosporidial gastroenteritis is on the rise in Australia and faecal contamination of swimming pools is largely to blame, according to a biochemist at Murdoch University.

Federal Government figures show there have already been 1,400 cryptosporidiosis cases nationwide this year, compared with 1,800 in the whole of last year, and 1,480 in 2010.

A recent, two-week reporting period saw 258 infections - almost double the number seen over the same period last year, the latest national communicable diseases surveillance report showed.

Professor Una Ryan, a professor in biochemistry at Murdoch University in Perth, said the cryptosporidium parasite could be passed directly from human to human, but was also commonly transmitted via contaminated water, especially swimming pools.

A loose bowel movement from just one child in a typical publuc pool could result in an average concentration of 20,000 cryptosporidium oocysts (egg-like sacs) per litre - a level Professor Ryan explains is easily capable of causing disease.

"A swimmer swallowing just 10 mL of water would ingest an average of 200 oocysts, which is well above a dose capable of causing infection.

"Studies worldwide have shown that there is at least one accidental faecal release every week in most swimming pools."

Queensland has so far reported the highest number of infections this year, with 868 cases in the sunshine state, followed by 183 in NSW and 133 in the Northern Territory.

Professor Ryan said more effective guidelines on managing faecal contamination in public swimming pools were needed. She also believes that the increase in notified reports was also partly driven by increased awareness of the disease among doctors, who were requesting more tests.

Cryptosporidiosis is a protozoal gastroenteritis. It is usually self-limiting, but can cause chronic, severe illness in people who have compromised immune systems such as people with HIV or undergoing certain cancer treatments.

Professor Ryan noted many waterborne outbreaks were not identified because faecal samples from patients with gastroenteritis were not always tested for micro-organisms.



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