Parasitic illness prompts health alert in Pinellas

Pinellas County, Florida -- The Florida Health Department has issued a health alert for Pinellas County after 58 cases of a parasitic illness have been reported.

Cryptosporidium is a parasite found in contaminated water, and can make people very sick. Symptoms include severe cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.

"It really has to do with coming in contact with contaminated fecal matter where this parasite lives," said Maggie Hall from the FDOH in Pinellas County.

Cryptosporidium spreads easily in water. Half the cases have come from public pools and water parks in Pinellas, so the facilities were alerted. Northwest Pool shut down as a precaution and is being tested after a child who may have visited there came down with the illness.

"Let's say you're in the pool and you get water in your mouth or up your nose and the water's contaminated, you'll get Crypto that way," Hall said.

See also: Second case of chikungunya in Pinellas County

The disease can also be spread by hands contaminated with feces during toilet use or diaper-changing. From the hands, it can spread to surfaces, toys and food.

The highest rates of infection are in those younger than 18. The disease also can affect animals.

TREATMENT:What to do if your dog gets sick

10 News showed the alert to parents dropping off their kids at area pools Wednesday night who were met with signs indicating the pool was closed.

"We have to teach children to wash their hands and use good antibacterial soaps," said one parent.

There's no medicinal cure for Cryptosporidium. It's like the flu, people just have to wait it out. The most important thing or an infected person is that they drink plenty of water, so they don't dehydrate. If someone is suffering from symptoms that don't go away after a few days, they should see a doctor.

"It's better to prevent it than try to treat it," Hall said.

DOH-Pinellas recommends that parents and caregivers take these steps to avoid pool contamination:

-- Take children on frequent bathroom breaks and check diapers often.

-- Change diapers in a bathroom and not at the poolside as germs can spread to surfaces or objects in and around the pool and spread illness.

-- Shower before entering the water.

-- Wash their hands with soap and water after changing a child's diaper.

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