Cryptosporidium parvum, also known as “Crypto,” is a parasite found in food and water that has been contaminated by feces from humans or animals. It is highly resistant to normal levels of chlorine, and can survive in pools and drinking water. People usually get cryptosporidium from swallowing contaminated water, eating contaminated food, or coming into contact with contaminated feces. Ingestion of as few as two to ten cryptosporidium oocysts, or parasites, can cause infection.
Over 10 cryptosporidium outbreaks from contaminated water have been documented in the United States since 1988, infecting thousands of people.
Symptoms of Cryptosporidium Infection
Symptoms of cryptosporidium infection, or cryptosporidiosis, generally appear a week after the parasite is swallowed. Signs that one is infected by a cryptosporidium parasite include the following:
- Diarrhea - diarrhea will be profuse and watery
- Abdominal cramping
- Loss of appetite
Those at increased risk of infection with cryptosporidium include people with weak immune systems, the elderly, small children, and pregnant women.
Diagnosis of Cryptosporidium
The most common way to diagnose cryptosporidiosis is by analyzing a stool sample. If you think you have symptoms of crypto infection, consult your doctor to get a stool sample tested.
Treatment for Cryptosporidiosis
There is no specific treatment for cryptosporidiosis, but most healthy people recover within two weeks. Symptoms can be lessened with an anti-parasitic drug and anti-diarrhetic agents. In addition, one should replenish the fluids and electrolytes lost during diarrhea.
Prevention of Cryptosporidium
Avoiding cryptosporidium is especially important for people with weak immune systems, as the illness caused by cryptosporidiosis can have worse effects on these individuals. In order to prevent the spread of cryptosporidium, one should:
- Wash hands thoroughly after going to the bathroom, changing diapers, and before and after eating
- Wash all raw foods and vegetables before eating them
- Be careful of swimming in public areas such as lakes and swimming pools if contamination is suspected, as cryptosporidium can linger up to six months in water
- Wash hands after touching farm animals
- Avoid exposure to feces during sexual activity
Mayo Clinic. (2010). Cryptosporidium infection. Available at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cryptosporidium/DS00907/DSECTION=prevention.