What is Cryptosporidiosis?

Cryptosporidiosis, often called "crypto," is a disease caused by a one-celled parasite. Crypto is so small that over 10,000 of them would fit on the period at the end of this sentence.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms are not always present with crypto, but may include watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, an upset stomach, or a slight fever. In some cases, persons infected with crypto can have severe diarrhea and lose weight. The first symptoms may appear two to ten days after a person becomes infected.

How does is affect you if your immune system is severely weakened?

In people with AIDS and weakened immune systems, crypto can be serious, long-lasting and sometimes fatal. If your CD4 cell count is below 200, crypto is more likely to cause diarrhea and other symptoms for a long time. If your CD4 count is above 200, your illness may not last more than 1 to 3 weeks, however, you could still carry the infection, which means that the crypto parasites are living in your intestines, but are not causing illness. If your CD4 count later drops below 200, your symptoms may reappear.

How is it spread?

Crypto is generally spread via the "fecal-oral" route, which occurs when pathogens in fecal particles pass from one host are introduced into the oral cavity of another host.Drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food can also give you crypto.

Who is at risk of becoming ill with Crypto?

Cryptosporidiosis can cause mild disease in healthy adults, serious disease in the elderly, very severe disease in infants, and fatal disease in immunocompromised (HIV/AIDS), or immunosuppressed (cancer chemotherapy or organ transplant) patients.

Can it be treated?

Yes, but no drug has been found yet to cure it. Some drugs may reduce the symptoms.

How can I protect myself from Crypto?

  • Wash your hands

    - Washing your hands often with soap and water is probably the single most important step you can take to prevent crypto and other illnesses. More information on when and how to wash your hands here
  • Avoid swallowing water when swimming

    in lakes, rivers, or pools, and when using hot tubs. Several outbreaks of crypto have been traced to swallowing contaminated water while swimming. Crypto is not killed by the amount of chlorine normally used in swimming pools and water parks. Crypto also can remain alive in salt water for several days, so swimming in polluted ocean water may also be unsafe.
  • Wash and/or cook your food

    - Fresh vegetables and fruits may be contaminated with crypto. Wash all uncooked vegetables and fruit. Do not eat or drink unpasteurized milk or dairy products. Cooking kills crypto.
  • Avoid touching farm animals

    - If you touch a farm animal, particularly a calf, lamb, or other young animal, such as a petting zoo or a farm, wash your hands well with soap and water before preparing food or putting anything in your mouth. Do not touch the stool of any animal. After you visit a farm or other area, clean your shoes while wearing gloves. Wash your hands after taking off the gloves.
  • Avoid touching the stool of pets

    - Someone who is not HIV infected should clean litter boxes or cages. If you must clean up after a pet, use disposable gloves. Wash your hands afterwards. The risk of getting crypto is greatest from pets that are less than 6 months old, animals that have diarrhea, and stray animals. Older animals can also have crypto, but they are less likely to have it than younger animals. If you get a puppy or kitten that is less than 6 months old, have the animal tested for crypto before bringing it home. If any pet gets diarrhea, have it tested for crypto.
  • Practice safe sex

    - Infected people may have crypto on their skin in the anal and genital areas, including the thighs and buttocks. However, since you cannot tell if someone has crypto, you may want to avoid any sexual practices which may result in fecal-oral transmission. Always wash your hands well after touching any part of your partner's body which might be contaminated.
  • Drink safe water

    • Crypto cysts have never been found in finished water from any public water supply in Chester County.
    • Approximately half the residents of Chester County get their water from individual wells. While these, too, are generally safe from Crypto contamination, they are never really tested for it unless the homeowner has that done at their own expense.
    • Drink commercially bottled water