What is cryptosporidiosis? — Cryptosporidiosis is an infection of the digestive system (figure 1) that is caused by a parasite. It can cause diarrhea, nausea, and stomach ache.
What are the symptoms of cryptosporidiosis? — Cryptosporidiosis does not always cause symptoms. Some people carry the parasite without knowing it.
When symptoms do happen, they can include:
Nausea and vomiting
Loss of appetite
People with conditions that weaken the body's infection-fighting system can get sicker from cryptosporidiosis. The body's infection-fighting system is also called the "immune system." People with weak immune systems have a hard time fighting infections. This includes people who have HIV and AIDS.
Should I see a doctor or nurse? — You should see your doctor or nurse if you:
Have severe diarrhea (4 or more runny or watery bowel movements in 1 day)
Have severe belly pain
Cannot eat or drink
Have a fever higher than 100.4°F (38°C)
Have symptoms that last for more than 2 weeks
It is especially important that young children, older adults, and people with weak immune systems see their doctor or nurse if they have symptoms. That's because they can get dehydrated more easily than other people.
How does cryptosporidiosis spread? — The parasite that causes cryptosporidiosis lives in bowel movements from infected people and animals. It can spread through:
Water – The parasite can live in drinking water systems or swimming pools. People can get infected when they swallow water that has the parasite in it.
People – People who have the infection can spread it if they do not wash their hands after a bowel movement. Babies who are infected can have the parasite in their diaper from a bowel movement. You can get sick if you touch an infected person, or change an infected baby's diaper, without washing your hands afterwards.
Animals – A person can get the infection from touching an infected animal. Children are more likely to get infected this way. That's because children are more likely to touch animals and not wash their hands afterwards.
Food – Food that has the parasite in it can make a person sick. But cooking the food can kill the parasite.
Is there a test for cryptosporidiosis? — Yes. If your doctor or nurse thinks you might have it, he or she will ask you for a sample of your bowel movement. The sample can be tested for cryptosporidiosis and other infections that can cause the same symptoms.
Doctors can also use samples of other body fluids or tissue to look for the parasite. But these samples are not always needed.
How is cryptosporidiosis treated? — It depends. Most people with healthy immune systems get better in about 2 weeks without treatment. If the symptoms are severe or last longer than 2 weeks, doctors can give a medicine called nitazoxanide (brand name: Alinia). Although this medicine might not help everyone, it might help stop diarrhea in some people and help keep the infection from spreading.
For people without healthy immune systems, it is important to try and make them stronger. For example, people with HIV who are not taking HIV medicines need to start taking them right away. These medicines boost the immune system, and this is the best way to get rid of the infection. People without healthy immune systems might also get nitazoxanide. However, the medicine does not always help.
People who have severe diarrhea might need to be treated in the hospital. Doctors can give medicines to help stop diarrhea. They can also give fluids through an "IV." This is a thin tube that goes into a vein. It can help put fluids back in the body if a person loses too much water from diarrhea.
Can cryptosporidiosis be prevented? — You can lower your chances of getting cryptosporidiosis if you do the following:
Wash your hands before eating and after going to the bathroom or changing diapers.
Throw away dirty diapers and animal bowel movements in a closed garbage can away from where you cook and eat.
Do not drink water from streams, lakes, or public swimming pools.
Wear disposable gloves when handling bowel movements from pets. Then wash your hands well when you are done, even if you were wearing gloves.
Handle food safely – Here are some things you should do:
•Do not drink unpasteurized milk or foods made with it.
•Wash fruits and vegetables well before eating them.
•Wash your hands, knives, and cutting boards after they touch raw food.
If you get sick, you can keep from spreading cryptosporidiosis to other people by:
Staying home from work or school until you feel better.
Washing your hands after going to the bathroom.
Not swimming in a public pool until your diarrhea has been gone for 2 weeks.
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 83627 Version 10.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
© 2020 UpToDate, Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.