Cryptosporidiosis has sickened at least 100 North Texas swimmers and may have killed one, the Associated Press reported, a striking increase compared to past summers.
Experts say they don't know the exact cause of the spike in the cases of cryptosporidiosis. But possible factors include an actual increase in cryptosporidiosis, availability of a prescription drug to treat it and greater awareness of the illness.
"People, when they have diarrhea are not necessarily thinking, 'Where did I eat last night?' They're thinking, 'Where have I been swimming?'" said Michele Hlavsa, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, which has noted a national increase in crypto cases in the past few years. "That's sort of a new development."
In Texas, state figures show the number of cases has risen from 79 in 2003 to 237 in 2007.
Tarrant County has reported 67 cases since June while Dallas County has 50, according to local public health officials. On average, they see 10 to 15 cases in a given month. Most of the confirmed cryptosporidiosis cases in Tarrant County were connected to Burger's Lake in Fort Worth.
Fifteen cases have been confirmed in Collin County, north of Dallas.
"Obviously this year it will be going way up," said Emily Palmer, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Service. "We'll have a big increase for `08."
The cases in the Dallas-Forth area are driving up the numbers, she said.
"This is unusual, and what we consider an outbreak," said Jacqueline M. Bell, spokeswoman for Dallas County Health and Human Services. "We're taking an aggressive approach."
Pools, swimming areas and water parks in the Dallas-Fort Worth area where cryptosporidiosis has been contracted have been temporarily closed and super-chlorinated—high levels of chlorine can kill the parasite.
Along with regular hyperchlorination of contaminated pools, officials are also posting preventive steps and precautions at popular swimming places.
Bell speculated that more vacationers are staying closer to home due to high gas prices, so they're spending more time visiting local water parks and pools, making exposure more likely.
She added that heightened awareness of the situation in Tarrant County may have prompted more people to go to their local doctors, who are required to report the cases.
Source: The Associated Press