Britain’s Olympic Swim Trials Rocked By Chlorine-Resistant Bug Cryptosporidiosis – Crisis Talks To Consider Shifting Selection Event

2024-04-01 2 comments Reading Time: 4 minutes
cryptosporidiosis Winner Nathan Adrian of the United States of America (USA) competes in the men's 100m Freestyle Final during the Swimming competition held at the Aquatics Center during the London 2012 Olympic Games in London, Great Britain, Wednesday, August 1, 2012. (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)
To Splash or not to splash, that is the question when cryptosporidiosis in on the move (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)

British Swimming will hold an emergency meeting in London this afternoon to decide whether to cancel the Olympic trials due to get underway at the capital’s 2012 Olympic pool after an outbreak of cryptosporidiosis.

The source of the gastrointestinal disease is unclear at this stage but London’s Olympic Park and local authorities are investigating.

Contrary to popular belief, chlorine doesn’t kill off all infectious microbes in a swimming pool and Cryptosporidium oocysts are amongst the hardiest of enemies: they are “hardy, thick-walled and resistant to chlorine and acid” and are not destroyed by chlorine at the normal concentrations found in swimming pools, according to reports during recent and unusually high levels of outbreak in Australia.

Like Giardia, Cryptosporidium oocysts are particularly suited to waterborne transmission. This is because they’re resistant to chlorine and highly infectious.

Cryptosporidium oocysts can be introduced by and/or compounded by the smallest incidence of faecal material in pools. Closure and a thorough decontamination of an infected pool is the standard and often obligatory response to an outbreak and may be the only option open to the London authorities and British Swimming.

Sources tell SOS that there are still two options on the table: cancellation and rescheduling of the trials; or, even less likely, running the event on a crisis-management basis in a similar way to how COVID-19 was handled to ensure elite sport could continue at the height of the pandemic.

Swimmers and coaches were shocked by the news this morning but reluctant to comment until they’d been updated with the latest from British Swimming.

Cancellation would throw every coaching plan into chaos but would be the only option available if rapid decontamination measures fall shy and crisis management is deemed unworkable at such short notice. Both potential solutions may also result in ticket-sales revenue having to be returned if experts recommend the trials be held in a tightly controlled environment or at a venue that has no provision for spectators.

A spokesperson for the swimming authority said: “You might say we’ve been taken short. To move the trials to another venue, such as Ponds Forge in Sheffield, would be unworkable at such short notice.

“There are near-term options to use facilities at one of our performance centres, like Loughborough, Bath or even Stirling, but that would be costly on two fronts: no crowd, no fans and families – and no revenue to help fund the vast costs of running such events.”

What is cryptosporidiosis and are swimmers safe?

Cryptosporidiosis outbreaks are relatively rare but more than 700 cases of the gastrointestinal illness were reported in Queensland in January this year, marking a 13 times increase in the average incidence during Australia’s summer season.

In New South Wales, just under 500 cases were recorded in recent months. In Australia, Cryptosporidiosis has been as a national notifiable disease in Australia since 2001.

In the UK, the British Government publishes the following advice on the parasite:

“Cryptosporidium is a parasite (a tiny organism) that causes an illness or disease called cryptosporidiosis affecting people and some animals, particularly farm animals. It can be found in the intestines and faeces of infected humans and animals, and may contaminate lakes, streams and rivers, swimming pools, untreated or poorly treated water, food, especially raw milk and fresh produce, and objects such as farm gates and outdoor boots and clothing. …

“Symptoms include profuse watery diarrhoea, stomach pains, nausea or vomiting, low-grade fever and loss of appetite which can lead to dehydration and weight loss.”

For obvious reasons, any infection of that kind would be debilitating for Britain’s elite swimmers, including the nations best juniors and paralympians, who will also be racing at trials for places in Paris for their Games this summer.

Strong immune systems can hold off the worst of the bug but cannot guarantee that illness will be staved off in the long term.

As the Government advice notes: “Symptoms usually last for about 2 weeks but can be longer, especially in people with weak immune systems. During the illness, you might think that you are getting better and have shaken off the infection but then it returns a couple of days later before you fully recover. As symptoms are similar to many other tummy bugs, the only way to know you have cryptosporidium is for a doctor to ask for a sample of your faeces to be tested in a laboratory.”

Dr. April Primus, of the London Infectious Diseases Unit, told SOS: “The infection is spread by spores called oocysts in the stools of humans and animals. When ingested, these oocysts migrate and mature in the small bowel. They damage the small bowel lining and can lead to diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, fever and abdominal discomfort. Most people develop symptoms anywhere from one to 12 days after becoming infected. Usually these symptoms resolve within two weeks, but the illness may last longer and can be severe in those with a weakened immune system.”

Most major outbreaks of cryptosporidiosis stem from contaminated water. The largest recorded outbreak occurred in Milwaukee in 1993, when 403,000 people were believed to have been infected.

The bug passed through the filtration system of one of the water treatment plants undetected, infecting the city’s water supply. As few as ten oocysts can cause infection, making it possible for contaminated drinking water to affect a very large number of people.

Dr. Primus believes that the London 2012 pool will have to be closed for several days of decontamination. “The only safe option would be to hold the trials in uncontaminated waters. We mustn’t be fooled into thinking otherwise.

“Obviously, this presents a logistical issue given that it’s April the first and the trials are due to start April 2 but if there’s a community fit to show resilience in a crisis, its the swimming community, given their physical and mental training and all they endured and all the lessons learned during the Covid pandemic. It’s a case of White Rabbits, hope and making the best of the start of a new month.”

Related: Olympic Swimmers ‘Must’ Wear Full-Face Scuba Mask & Snorkel In Tokyo 2020 Warm-Up Pool To Mitigate Covid Risks

Today is April 1.

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