Who Pooed in the Pool?

By Ray Stern

All 29 public pools in Phoenix were open again today following last week's parasite scare, but parks workers still weren't quite sure how the bug found its way into the water.

Only one thing seems certain: It was no Baby Ruth, the candy bar from the famous "doodie" scene in the 1980 movie Caddyshack (scene pictured at left).

But an asshole's definitely responsible.

Fecal matter is the chief conduit for cryptosporidium, the hardy germ believed responsible for sickening nearly 60 staff workers and swimmers last week in Phoenix's pools. According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control's Web site, the germ enters the human body when people swallow water containing traces of infected human crap. Victims then may suffer the nastiest bout of diarrhea of their lives.

Maybe it was an accident--a cute baby in the water with a way-too-happy look on his face. Or it could have been a kid or adult unskilled in the fine art of wiping.

Whatever happened, Phoenix is taking steps to lower the chances of another outbreak, as are other Valley cities. But it could happen again, officials warn.

Becky Hulett, aquatics supervisor for the city, has never talked about feces so much in her life as in the last week. Since Phoenix's pools were hyper-chlorinated and re-opened, Hulett's been compiling a report on all the "fecal incidents" at city pools in 2008 and 2007, as recorded in logbooks kept by lifeguards. She expects to finish by next week and release a full account to the media.

Last week's outbreak began after authorities confirmed two cases of cryptosporidiosis in swimmers who'd been at the city's Starlight pool. Strangely, though, the parasite wasn't found in that pool, but did turn up in tests at another pool, Marivue.

While the bug itself has proved elusive, that's not true of its source material. Hulett guesses that fecal incidents occur almost monthly at all pool areas. Many times, an incident doesn't involve a pool itself. People leave a calling card outside a toilet and "just walk away," Hulett says. "Nobody reports it. A lifeguard finds it and has to disinfect and clean the area."

At one pool site so far this year, two such incidents were reported--one in the men's bathroom, one in the women's. But another at the site involved feces in the baby pool.

From now on, little ones will be monitored more closely to make sure they are wearing swim diapers. Vending machines at the sites will stock the special diapers, which have tighter elastic leg bands than normal diapers. As most everyone with kids knows, though, swim diapers have about as much chance of containing an infant's diarrhetic explosion as the proverbial screen door on a submarine.

The city also wants swimmers to shower before getting in a pool. That's always been the rule, but it's never been enforced. Proving how lax the city has been about that, soap dispensers in pool showers were installed just last weekend in reaction to the outbreak.

We can only hope this will help cut the crap.

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