What is cryptosporidium infection?
Cryptosporidium infection is an illness caused by tiny, one-celled cryptosporidium parasites. When cryptosporidi enter your body, they travel to your small intestine and then burrow into the walls of your intestines. Later, cryptosporidia are shed in your feces.
In most healthy people, a cryptosporidium infection produces a bout of watery diarrhea and the infection usually goes away within a week or two. If you have a compromised immune system, a cryptosporidium infection can become life-threatening without proper treatment. You can help prevent a cryptosporidium infection by practicing good hygiene and avoiding swallowing water from pools, recreational water parks, lakes and streams.
How common is cryptosporidium infection?
Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of cryptosporidium infection?
The common symptoms of cryptosporidium infection are:
- Watery diarrhea
- Stomach cramps or pain
- Weight loss
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes cryptosporidium infection?
Cryptosporidium infection begins when you ingest the one-celled cryptosporidium parasite. Some strains of cryptosporidium may cause more serious disease.
These parasites then travel to your intestinal tract, where they settle into the walls of your intestines. Eventually, more cells are produced and shed in massive quantities into your feces, where they are highly contagious.
You can become infected with cryptosporidia by touching anything that has come in contact with contaminated feces. Methods of infection include:
- Drinking contaminated water that contains cryptosporidium parasites
- Swimming in contaminated water that contains cryptosporidium parasites and accidentally swallowing some of it
- Eating uncooked, contaminated food that contains cryptosporidia
- Touching your hand to your mouth if your hand has been in contact with a contaminated surface or object
- Having close contact with other infected people or animals — especially their feces — which can allow the parasite to be transmitted from your hands to your mouth
If you have a compromised immune system from HIV/AIDS, you’re more susceptible to illness from cryptosporidium parasites than is a person with a healthy immune system. People with HIV/AIDS can develop severe symptoms and a chronic, persistent form of disease that may be difficult to treat.
Cryptosporidium parasites are one of the more common causes of infectious diarrhea in humans. This parasite is difficult to eradicate because it’s resistant to many chlorine-based disinfectants and can’t be effectively removed by many filters. Cryptosporidia can also survive in the environment for many months at varying temperatures, though the parasite can be destroyed by freezing or boiling.
What increases my risk for cryptosporidium infection?
There are many risk factors for cryptosporidium infection, such as:
- Those who are exposed to contaminated water
- Children, particularly those wearing diapers, who attend child care centers
- Parents of infected children
- Child care workers
- Animal handlers
- Those who engage in oral-to-anal sexual activity
- International travelers, especially those traveling to developing countries
- Backpackers, hikers and campers who drink untreated, unfiltered water
- Swimmers who swallow water in pools, lakes and rivers
- People who drink water from shallow, unprotected wells
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is cryptosporidium infection diagnosed?
Diagnosis of cryptosporidium infection is made by examination of stool samples. Because detection of Cryptosporidium can be difficult, patients may be asked to submit several stool samples over several days. Most often, stool specimens are examined microscopically using different techniques (e.g., acid-fast staining, direct fluorescent antibody [DFA] , and/or enzyme immunoassays for detection of Cryptosporidium sp. antigens).
Molecular methods (e.g., polymerase chain reaction – PCR) are increasingly used in reference diagnostic labs, since they can be used to identify Cryptosporidium at the species level. Tests for Cryptosporidium are not routinely done in most laboratories; therefore, healthcare providers should specifically request testing for this parasite.
How is cryptosporidium infection treated?
There’s no commonly advised specific treatment for cryptosporidium infection, and recovery usually depends on the health of your immune system. Most healthy people recover within two weeks without medical attention.
If you have a compromised immune system, the illness can last and lead to significant malnutrition and wasting. The goal of treatment is to alleviate symptoms and improve your immune response. cryptosporidium infection treatment options include:
- Anti-parasitic drugs. Medications, such as nitazoxanide (Alinia), can help alleviate diarrhea by attacking the metabolic processes of the cryptosporidium organisms. Azithromycin (Zithromax) may be given along with one of these medications in people with compromised immune systems.
- Anti-motility agents. These medications slow down the movements of your intestines and increase fluid absorption to relieve diarrhea and restore normal stools. Anti-motility drugs include loperamide and its derivatives (Imodium A-D, others). Talk with your doctor before taking any of these medications.
- Fluid replacement. You’ll need either oral or intravenous replacement of fluids and electrolytes — minerals, such as sodium, potassium and calcium, that maintain the balance of fluids in your body — lost to persistent diarrhea. These precautions will help keep your body hydrated and functioning properly.
- Antiretroviral therapies. If you have HIV/AIDS, highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) can reduce the viral load in your body and boost your immune response. Restoring your immune system to a certain level may completely resolve symptoms of cryptosporidium infection.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage cryptosporidium infection?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with cryptosporidium infection:
- Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water after using the toilet and changing diapers, and before and after eating. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not effectively kill the germs that cause cryptosporidium infection.
- Thoroughly wash with uncontaminated water all fruits and vegetables that you will eat raw, and avoid eating any food you suspect might be contaminated. If you’re traveling in a developing country, avoid uncooked foods.
- Purify drinking water if you have a weakened immune system or are traveling in an area with a high risk of infection. Methods include boiling — at least one minute at a rolling boil — or filtering, although filtering may not be as effective as boiling. Be sure to use a filter that meets the National Safety Foundation Standard/American National Standards Institute (NSF/ANSI) standard 53 or 58 requirements for cyst and oocyst reduction. You’ll need a separate water filter for bacteria and viruses.
- Limit swimming activities in lakes, streams and public swimming pools, especially if the water is likely to be contaminated or if you have a compromised immune system.
- Avoid fecal exposure during sexual activity.
- Handle newborn farm and domestic animals with care. Be sure to wash your hands after handling the animals.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: August 2, 2017 | Last Modified: August 4, 2017
Cryptosporidium infection. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cryptosporidium/home/ovc-20272940. Accessed August 3, 2017.
Parasites - Cryptosporidium (also known as "Crypto"). https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/crypto/diagnosis.html. Accessed August 3, 2017.