What is cryptosporidium and what are the symptoms during an outbreak

“Hundreds” are believed to be sick in a seaside town following reports of a waterborne illness caused by a parasite that can live in the intestines and faeces of infected people and animals. It is being investigated as a suspected outbreak of “Cryptosporidium”.

Symptoms reported in Devon include severe watery diarrhoea, stomach pain, nausea or vomiting, mild fever and loss of appetite, usually lasting one to two weeks. Cryptosporidium, a parasite that can be found in the intestines and feces of infected humans and animals, can be spread by swimming or drinking contaminated water, among other routes, such as contaminated food.

The UK Health Safety Agency (UKHSA) has confirmed 16 cases of cryptosporidium and around 70 reported cases of diarrhea and vomiting – with more cases reported by victims on social media.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Cryptosporidium is a microscopic parasite that causes the diarrheal disease cryptosporidiosis. Both the parasite and the disease are commonly known as “Crypto”.

There are many species of Cryptosporidium that infect animals, some of which also infect humans. 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 tolerant of chlorine disinfection.

While this parasite can be spread in several different ways, water (drinking water and recreational water) is the most common way to spread the parasite. Cryptosporidium is a leading cause of waterborne disease in humans in the United States.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of cryptosporidiosis generally begin 2 to 10 days (average 7 days) after being infected with the parasite. The most common symptom of cryptosporidiosis is watery diarrhea.

Symptoms include:

  • Watery diarrhea
  • Cramps or stomach pain
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Weight loss

Some people with Crypto will have no symptoms at all.