Cryptosporidium: the health issues

Overview to the infection - Cyptosporosis

What is Cryptosporidium?

Cryptosporidiosis, is a diarrheal disease caused by a microscopic parasite, Cryptosporidium parvum. It can live in the intestine of humans and animals and is passed in the stool of an infected person or animal. Both the disease and the parasite are also known as "Crypto." The parasite is protected by an outer shell that allows it to survive outside the body for long periods of time and makes it very resistant to chlorine disinfection. During the past two decades, Crypto has become recognized as one of the most common causes of waterborne disease (drinking and recreational) in humans. The parasite is found throughout the world.

What are the symptoms of Cryptosporidium?

Symptoms include diarrhea, loose or watery stool, stomach cramps, upset stomach, and a slight fever. Some people have no symptoms.

How long after infection do symptoms appear?

Symptoms generally begin 2-10 days after being infected.

How long will symptoms last?

In persons with average immune systems, symptoms usually last about 2 weeks; the symptoms may go in cycles in which you may seem to get better for a few days, then feel worse, before the illness ends. 

How is it spread?

Cryptosporidium lives in the intestine of infected humans or animals. Millions of of the parasite can be released in a bowel movement from an infected human or animal. You can become infected after accidentally swallowing the parasite. It may be found in soil, food, water, or surfaces that have been contaminated with the feces from infected humans or animals. It is not spread by contact with blood but may be spread by:

  • Putting something in your mouth or accidentally swallowing something that has come in contact with the stool of a person or animal infected with the parasite. 
  • By swallowing recreational water contaminated with Cryptosporium. Recreational water is water in swimming pools, hot tubs, jacuzzis, fountains, lakes, rivers, springs, ponds, or streams that can be contaminated with sewage or feces from humans or animals. Note: It is chlorine resistant and can live for days in pools.
  • By eating uncooked food contaminated with the parasite. Thoroughly wash with uncontaminated water all vegetables and fruits you plan to eat raw. See below for information on making water safe.
  • By accidentally swallowing Cryptosporium picked up from surfaces (such as toys, bathroom fixtures, changing tables, nappy buckets) contaminated with stool from an infected person. 

Is it contagious? 

Yes, it can be very contagious. Follow these guidelines to avoid spreading it to others.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet, changing diapers, and before eating or preparing food.
  • Avoid swimming in recreational water (pools, hot tubs, lakes or rivers, the ocean, etc.) if you have Cryptosporiuim and for at least 2 weeks after diarrhea stops. You can pass it in your stools and contaminate water for several weeks after your symptoms have ended. This has resulted in many outbreaks of Cryptosporidium among recreational water users. Note: you are not protected in a chlorinated pool because it is chlorine resistant and can live for days in pools.

Am I at risk for severe disease?

Although Cryptosporidium can infect all people, some groups are more likely to develop more serious illness. Young children and pregnant women may be more susceptible to the dehydration resulting from diarrhea and should drink plenty of fluids while ill. 

If you have a severely weakened immune system, you are at risk for more serious disease. Your symptoms may be more severe and could lead to serious or life-threatening illness. Examples of persons with weakened immune systems include those with HIV / AIDS; cancer and transplant patients who are taking certain immunosuppressive drugs; and those with inherited diseases that affect the immune system.

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