It's snowing a bit as I write this. But you'd think the end of the world was coming. Local news stations already are screaming, "STORM WATCH 2009!!!" It's no wonder we've all become numb to the near-daily pronouncements of doom and gloom. Call it the "little boy who cried wolf" syndrome.
So maybe aquatics professionals can be forgiven for failing to recognize the very real crisis that's been unfolding.
Just what does this crisis look like?
It's a recreational water illness that has increased nearly 300 percent since 2004; that sparked the industry's first-ever class action lawsuit; that resists and even thwarts traditional water sanitation methods; that turned the Salt Lake City area into a virtual hot zone in 2007. What I?m describing is the cryptosporidium crisis. And let me be absolutely clear: It threatens your job, your facility and your patrons.
We've followed this crisis ever since I became editor of Aquatics International nearly six years ago. It started as an outbreak here, a lawsuit there. As the crisis grew, our news pages became dominated with reports of outbreaks and the aftermath. I thought such reports were getting the message out that we need to educate and act. To some extent, it has. But not enough.
Starting with this issue, we aim to change that with an unprecedented three-part series on cryptosporidium truth, consequences and solutions. As part of our research, we surveyed industry professionals to determine how well they understand crypto. The results are somewhat encouraging (more than 90 percent know that crypto is transmitted through the stool) and disheartening (less 50 percent can correctly identify crypto as a parasite).
Those numbers are not nearly good enough. Facility operators need better education. But more than that, they need to wake up and realize this is not a drill. The threat crypto represents is very real. Every operator should be preparing not for "if" crypto hits their facility, but "when'?
Exaggeration? Try telling that to the operator in Albuquerque who found himself in the middle of a crypto maelstrom. Or health officials in New York who became infamous for that state's outbreak. When it happens, most operators don't even know what hit them.
Plenty can be done to ensure that you don't get blindsided. It starts with educating yourself. Crypto is the enemy, and you need to know it. Once you do, you must educate patrons. You must let them know that they are responsible for helping to defeat it. The importance of this last part cannot be overstated.
Again and again, reports show that patrons sickened in an outbreak are angry they weren't warned about the dangers of crypto. Bringing them into the battle will neutralize that anger and give you an essential ally.
Yes, it's a scary proposition. Faced with the potential of infection, and the ugly realities of crypto, patrons may choose to avoid pools and waterparks altogether. But I don't think so. Remember, people come to your facility every day knowing that they face the ultimate risk: death by drowning. Aquatics professionals do everything in their power to prevent it, including teaching patrons how to swim and putting up signs warning against unsafe behavior. Entire organizations have sprung up around these efforts.
Crypto must receive the same treatment. Every facility should have classes teaching patrons about their role in keeping water safe and healthy. Signs should be erected warning against unsafe behaviors. Lifeguards should be educated about how to talk to patrons about crypto and their own role in keeping the facility RWI free.
Most of all, operators must let go of the illusion that they can somehow manage this crisis. A real crisis cannot be managed. It must be recognized, faced and dealt with fearlessly.