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What is cryptosporidiosis, and how can people avoid getting infected?

What is cryptosporidiosis, and how can people avoid getting infected?

With a parasite that can cause diarrhoea found in the drinking water supply in parts of south Devon, we take a look at the organism involved and how infection can be avoided.

What is the parasite involved?

On Friday the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said 46 cases of a highly infectious disease known as cryptosporidiosis had been confirmed in the Brixham area, with more than 100 additional people reporting symptoms.

“Other reported cases of diarrhoea and vomiting in residents and visitors to Brixham are also under investigation. More confirmed cases are anticipated,” UKHSA said.

The disease is caused by a parasite called cryptosporidium – a single-celled organism that can infect humans and animals.

“There are many different species but two are the main causes of disease in humans. C. parvum whose main host is cattle and C. hominis whose main host is humans,” said Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia.

The main symptoms of infection include stomach pains, diarrhoea and vomiting, typically lasting for about two weeks. While most people recover with rest and hydration, cryptosporidiosis can be more serious in people with a compromised immune system.

How do people get cryptosporidiosis?

In brief, cryptosporidiosis can arise from exposure to contaminated water, and can be spread from person to person and between animals and humans.

“It can be found in the intestines and faeces of infected humans and animals, and may contaminate lakes, streams and rivers, swimming pools, untreated or poorly treated water, food, especially raw milk and fresh produce, and objects such as farm gates and outdoor boots and clothing,” UKHSA notes.

As a result, people who have contact with faeces containing the parasite – including those who work with animals or babies – are at increased risk of becoming infected, as are people who are exposed to contaminated water, contaminated raw milk, or unwashed contaminated food.

“Anyone can get cryptosporidiosis, but it is most common in children aged between one and five years,” UKHSA notes.

How can you avoid infection?

A key recommendation is to wash your hands before preparing or eating food, after using the toilet and after having contact with animals. UKHSA also advises people to avoid swallowing water in lakes and swimming pools and stresses the importance of not drinking untreated water.

The agency adds affected households should ensure clothes and bedding are washed on a high temperature, while towels should not be shared, and toilets and other bathroom fixtures and fittings should be disinfected. Those who have experienced symptoms, it adds, should not return to work or school until 48 hours have passed since the last episode of vomiting or diarrhoea, while swimming should be avoided for 14 days after such episodes end.

Earlier this week, South West Water told residents in the Brixham area to boil their water before drinking it when cool, while bottled water is being handed out to residents, local businesses and schools.

Source: theguardian.com