The Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services Department and the Clarke County Health Department have determined that an infected person with diarrhea who used the splash pad at the East Athens Community Park is the most likely source for the spread of Cryptosporidium, a parasite that has been confirmed to have infected at least 16 children who visited the splash pad on Sunday, August 3. One of the leading causes of recreational water illness, this parasite is spread when persons swallow water that has been recently contaminated by an infected person’s fecal matter.
The Clarke County Health Department was alerted on August 11 to several cases of children falling ill who had been to a private party held at the East Athens Community Park. As part of the investigation into the possible illness and its source, the Health Department contacted the ACC Leisure Services Department on August 12 for information and took water samples on August 13 that were submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The water test results from the CDC are not expected to be completed until later this week. However, on August 18 the Health Department confirmed that samples from the infected children indicated that the illness is due to Cryptosporidium.
All five Athens-Clarke County public pools and both splash pads operate under state-mandated standards for operation, chlorination levels, record-keeping, and water testing procedures. ACC Leisure Services staff, certified by the National Swimming Pool Foundation as Certified Pool Operators, test and adjust the chemistry daily throughout the operating season. All operational standards and disinfectant levels set by the state of Georgia were met or exceeded at the splash pad in the days leading up to and following August 3. However, Cryptosporidium – commonly known as ‘Crypto’ – has a tough outer shell that can allow it to survive for several days even in properly chlorinated pools.
As a part of their normal maintenance routine, all pools and splash pads operated by ACC Leisure Services receive an increased dose of chlorine on Mondays when they are closed to the public. This superchlorination elevates chlorine levels well above the maximum allowed for occupied pools to help produce the cleanest possible recreational environment. Once the Health Department determined Crypto in the water as a probable cause and took water samples, ACC Leisure Services staff initiated a precautionary disinfectant treatment at the East Athens Community Park splash pad prior to reopening to the public. This treatment used more than twice the amount of chlorine shown by CDC studies to eradicate Crypto and was used for a longer period of time than required by the Health Department.
“As soon as the Health Department contacted us about the possibility that someone had infected the splash pad water with Crypto, we took the concern very seriously,” says Keith Kirkland, ACC Leisure Services Park Services Division Maintenance Supervisor. “Even though the Crypto was likely killed off by our normal cleaning procedures by that time, we treated the water with extremely high doses of chlorine to help make sure it was safe again for everyone.”
Following the occurrence on August 3, the East Athens Community Park splash pad was closed on Monday, August 4 for normal maintenance operations. It reopened on Tuesday, August 5 and Friday, August 8 before beginning the splash pads’ end of season weekend-only operating schedule. Although ACC Leisure Services was not alerted to the possible outbreak until August 12, it is likely that any parasites in the water from August 3 would have been eliminated by the normal chlorination processes prior to the pad’s reopening on August 5. As of this time, the Health Department is not aware of any Crypto illnesses beyond that of August 3.
Cryptosporidium is a protozoan parasite that causes an infection called cryptosporidiosis affecting people and cattle. The most common symptom is watery diarrhea, which can range from mild to severe.
Although it’s most frequently seen in young children, cryptosporidium can affect anyone. People with weak immune systems are likely to be most seriously affected.
Cryptosporidium is found in soil, food, water, or surfaces that have been contaminated with infected human or animal feces. Transmission occurs through animal-to-human or human-to-human contact. Consuming contaminated water or food, swimming in contaminated water and children visiting petting zoos are commonways people contract the parasite.
It is typically a self-limiting illness in otherwise healthy individuals. For more infectious disease news and information, visit and “like” the Infectious Disease News Facebook page