What is Cryptosporidium?

The parasite Cryptosporidium. Photo courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

What it is: The parasite Cryptosporidium, or “Crypto” for short, can be found in water, food, soil or on surfaces or dirty hands that have been contaminated with the feces of humans or animals infected with the parasite. It causes Cryptosporidiosis, a disease that causes watery diarrhea.

How it Spreads:  You can become infected by swallowing recreational water in swimming pools, fountains, lakes, rivers contaminated with Crypto. Crypto’s high tolerance to chlorine enables the parasite to survive for long periods in chlorinated swimming pool and drinking water. It can also be spread by eating undercooked food or drinking unpasteurized drinks that are contaminated with Crypto. You can also get it from touching your mouth with hands contaminated by feces infected with Crypto. Hands can become contaminated by touching surfaces or objects like bathroom fixtures, changing tables or diaper pails that have been contaminated by poop from an infected person.

Symptoms: Watery diarrhea, stomach cramps or pain, dehydration, nausea, vomiting, fever and weight loss. Symptoms usually begin 2-10 days after becoming infected with the parasite and generally last about 1-2 weeks, but can last as 4 weeks or longer in people with healthy immune systems. Young children and pregnant women are more likely to become dehydrated because of diarrhea and should drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. People with weakened immune systems are at greater risk for developing severe symptoms.

Treatment: Most people with healthy immune systems will recover from cryptosporidiosis without treatment. You are advised to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and avoid drinks that increase dehydration like caffeinated beverages and alcohol. There is a prescription drug treatment known as nitazoxanide. Anyone who thinks they have been infected with Crypto should consult a physician.

Prevention: Practicing good hygiene is your best defense against the spread of Cryptosporidium. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after using the toilet, after changing diapers, and before eating or preparing food. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not effective against Crypto.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention