With spring snows past and summer heat starting to pick up, the state Department of Health is politely asking Wyomingites to avoid defecating in recreational bodies of water and to avoid drinking untreated water.
“They are generally associated with contaminated water,” department spokeswoman Kim Deti said of the illnesses that arise. “We’re talking about feces. ... You can’t see them, you don’t have to see it for the water to contain a risk of disease. In the wild, it can be animals, domestic animals such as cattle or wildlife.”
In Wyoming, health officials see cases of giardiasis in people who drink untreated water from streams, lakes or reservoirs (though it can also be passed in swimming pools). The disease comes when parasites that live in intestines is then passed out of that animal’s digestive tract and is then consumed by another animal. It includes abdominal cramps and diarrhea.
Meanwhile, outbreaks of cryptosporidiosis — a similar disease to giardiasis in terms of intestinal parasites and how it’s spread — is more commonly associated with pools, Deti said. But the disease can also be spread in other bodies of water.
Only a small amount of the parasites in either disease are needed to make a person sick, according to the Health Department and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To avoid contracting the illnesses, the department recommends:
- Not swimming when you have diarrhea;
- Not pooping or peeing in the water;
- Washing hands with soap after swimming and before eating;
- Use good hygiene before swimming, especially after going to the bathroom or changing diapers;
- Avoid swallowing or drinking untreated or swimming water.
The department also advises cleaning children before dropping them off at the pool and to frequently check diapers.
If someone is ill (with a stomach-related issue) and they go swimming and they contaminate water, it can make other people ill,” Deti said. “We want people to be careful when they’re going into pools and really if you are ill, don’t chance it.”
She added that if you’re planning on sipping water from mountain streams or lakes, you should use filters or chemical treatments before drinking.
“The germs causing these diseases also flourish in untreated water such as hot springs, lakes, rivers and streams,” state epidemiologist Courtney Smith said in a statement. “So whether swimming or considering a drink during a hike, be aware of the risks. No one should drink untreated water even if it looks clear and clean.”