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FAQs - "B" Agents

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What is cryptosporidiosis?

Cryptosporidiosis (krip-toe-spo-rid-e-o-sis), 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, cryptosporidiosis has become recognized as one of the most common causes of waterborne disease (drinking and recreational) in humans in the United States. The parasite is found in every region of the United States and throughout the world.

What are the symptoms of cryptosporidiosis?

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 cryptosporidiosis spread?

Cryptosporidiosis lives in the intestine of infected humans or animals. Millions of cryptosporidiosis can be released in a bowel movement from an infected human or animal. You can become infected after accidentally swallowing the parasite. Cryptosporidiosis may be found in soil, food, water, or surfaces that have been contaminated with the feces from infected humans or animals. Cryptosporidiosis is not spread by contact with blood. Cryptosporidiosis can 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 cryptosporidiosis.
  • By swallowing recreational water contaminated with cryptosporidiosis. 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: cryptosporidiosis is chlorine resistant and can live for days in pools.
  • By eating uncooked food contaminated with cryptosporidiosis. 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 cryptosporidiosis picked up from surfaces (such as toys, bathroom fixtures, changing tables, diaper pails) contaminated with stool from an infected person. I have been diagnosed with cryptosporidiosis.

Should I worry about spreading infection to others?

Yes, cryptosporidiosis can be very contagious. Follow these guidelines to avoid spreading cryptosporidiosis 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 cryptosporidiosis and for at least 2 weeks after diarrhea stops. You can pass cryptosporidiosis in your stool and contaminate water for several weeks after your symptoms have ended. This has resulted in many outbreaks of cryptosporidiosis among recreational water users. Note: you are not protected in a chlorinated pool because cryptosporidiosis is chlorine resistant and can live for days in pools.
  • Avoid fecal exposure during sex.

Am I at risk for severe disease?

Although cryptosporidiosis 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.

How is a cryptosporidiosis infection diagnosed?

Your health care provider will ask you to submit stool samples to see if you are infected. Because testing for cryptosporidiosis can be difficult, you may be asked to submit several stool specimens over several days. Because tests for cryptosporidiosis are not routinely done in most laboratories, your health care provider should specifically request testing for the parasite.

What is the treatment for cryptosporidiosis?

There is no consistently effective treatment for cryptosporidiosis. Most people with a healthy immune system will recover on their own. Drinking plenty of fluids will help to prevent dehydration. Antidiarrheal medicine may help slow down diarrhea, but consult with your physician.

Rapid loss of fluids because of diarrhea can be very serious in babies. Parents should consult their health care provider about fluid replacement therapy options for babies. Children should not be given antidiarrheal medicine for severe diarrhea without first consulting their physician.

People who are on medicines that weaken their immune system are at higher risk for more severe and more prolonged illness; treatment for them could include cutting back on these medicines. In addition, patients with HIV infection can develop chronic diarrhea from cryptosporidiosis; they can be helped by optimizing their antiretroviral medicines.

Find the PDF version of this FAQ in the Zebra Manual.