Cryptosporidium is a tiny parasite that lives in the gut of many farm and domestic animals including some household pets. It can survive for long periods in water and in the environment in the form of an oocyst (which is similar to an egg). Humans can be infected by certain strains of the parasite if sufficient numbers of oocysts are
swallowed. The resulting illness is called cryptosporidiosis. The symptoms include watery diarrhoea, stomach pains, fever, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, which could last for up to three weeks.
It can be spread to humans through the following routes:
- Direct contact with farm animals and sick pets
- Person-to-person contact when care is not taken with personal hygiene
- Indirectly through contaminated food
- Through the water supply as a result of heavy rain washing any parasite oocysts present in animal droppings in the environment into reservoirs/rivers, and which are not then adequately removed by the treatment process.
What you should do
If you develop symptoms and they last for more than a few days, or if they are severe, or you are very young, very old, frail, or suffering from an immune disorder, consult your GP. In order to confirm whether or not you are suffering from cryptosporidiosis, you will be required to supply a sample of stool. Contact your GP or local Environmental Health Directorate on +44 1624 685894 for a stool specimen kit.
If your immune system is seriously weakened (that is, immuno-compromised through illness or medication) you are more at risk of serious and prolonged illness. You should routinely boil all drinking water. Anyone who is concerned about this should consult their doctor.
Cryptosporidiosis infection cannot directly harm your unborn child. However, if you develop any symptoms, contact your GP immediately.
There is no treatment for cryptosporidiosis. The infection usually clears up itself in a healthy person, without treatment.
It is generally good advice to drink more fluids when you have diarrhoea. If you have severe or prolonged symptoms you should contact your GP, especially if you have a weakened immune system.
If you are ill with cryptosporidiosis
If you are unwell it is important that you and your relatives/carers pay particular attention to hygiene and hand-washing.
The home needs to be cleaned regularly with water and general purpose detergent - particularly toilet seats, toilet bowls, flush mechanisms, taps and wash-hand basins.
Each member of the household needs to wash their hands by rubbing them all over with soap and warm water for at least 15 seconds, rinsing and then drying with a towel that no-one else within the household will use.
If you have had cryptosporidium, do not go swimming until you have been clear of diarrhoea for at least two weeks.
Reviewed December 2021