07 Sep What is cryptosporidium parasite?
How harmful is it?
The bug, known as crypto, is a parasite that can cause extreme diarrhoea called cryptosporidiosis, also shortened to crypto.
It can affect all people but for those with weakened immune levels crypto can be severe and even life-threatening.
Millions of parasites can be released in a single bowel movement which are then passed on to others through accidental ingestion.
What happens if you ingest it?
The most common symptom is diarrhoea but other warning signs include dehydration, nausea, vomiting, fever and weight loss.
Most people with healthy immune systems can recover without treatment by making sure they drink plenty of fluids.
The health website Patient recommends adults drink 200ml of water after each bout of diarrhoea and children be given plenty of fluids to replace those lost.
Babies under six months old have an increased risk of suffering dehydration.
Preventing the spread of cryptosporidiosis to others
Cryptosporidiosis is very infectious. This means that you can easily pass on the infection to others. It is therefore essential that you adopt strict personal hygiene measures if you are infected. The following are recommended to prevent the spread of infection to others:
- Wash your hands thoroughly after going to the toilet. Ideally, use liquid soap in warm running water but any soap is better than none. Dry properly after washing. If your child wears nappies, be especially careful to wash your hands after changing nappies and before preparing, serving, or eating food.
- If a potty has to be used, wear gloves when you handle it, dispose of the contents into a toilet, then wash the potty with hot water and detergent and leave it to dry.
- Don’t share towels and flannels.
- Don’t prepare or serve food for others.
- If clothing or bedding is soiled, first remove any stools (faeces) into the toilet. Then wash in a separate wash at as high a temperature as possible.
- Regularly clean with disinfectant the toilets that you use. With hot water and detergent, wipe the flush handle, toilet seat, bathroom taps, surfaces and door handles at least once a day. Keep a cloth just for cleaning the toilet (or use a disposable one each time).
- You should stay off work, school, college, etc, while you have cryptosporidiosis. You should not return until you have been free of symptoms for 48 hours. Avoid contact with other people as far as possible during this time.
- Food handlers: if you work with food and develop diarrhoea or sickness (vomiting), you must inform your employer and immediately leave the food-handling area. If cryptosporidium infection is confirmed, you should inform your employer and stay away from work until your doctor advises it is safe to return.
- You should not swim in a swimming pool for 14 days after your symptoms have cleared. This is because cryptosporidium can still be present in your stools during this time.
If you have cryptosporidiosis and you work with vulnerable groups of people such as the elderly, the unwell or the young, you should inform your employer.
Where is crypto usually found?
Parasites are organisms which live in or on another organism.
Crypto is found in water, food or soil contaminated by infected faeces.
It lives in the intestine of infected animals and humans and is found in their faeces.
Can cryptosporidiosis be prevented?
In general, good hygiene is essential to prevent the spread of many infections to others (including cryptosporidium) and to reduce your chance of picking up infections from others. Hand washing is the most important thing that you and your child can do. In particular, always wash your hands and dry them thoroughly and teach children to wash and dry theirs:
- After going to the toilet (and after changing nappies or helping an older child to go to the toilet).
- Before preparing or touching food or drinks.
- After handling raw food.
- Before eating.
- After working, feeding or playing with pets and other animals.
If you smoke, you should also wash your hands before smoking. The simple measure of washing and drying hands regularly and properly is known to make a big difference to the chance of developing many infections.
In addition to this (and particularly when travelling to areas with poor sanitation) you should avoid drinking untreated or unfiltered water. Foods washed or prepared using untreated water should also be avoided. So, avoid:
- Untreated tap water.
- Ice cream.
- Ice cubes.
- Salads and raw vegetables.
- Fruit that has already been peeled.
Also, avoid swallowing the water if you are swimming in lakes, rivers or swimming pools. If you are visiting a farm, make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly after contact with animals and also before eating.
Do safewater water test kits test for cryptosporidium?
Unfortunately, crypto is very hard to test for. Our tests do not have the ability to provide test results for this parasite. If your area is under a boil water notice, it is still a good idea to test your water after the notice is lifted so you can be aware of the quality of water in your home.