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Cryptosporidium: a Common Cause of Waterborne Illness in the US

cryptosporidium in drinking water

We tend to think that waterborne illnesses do not exist in first world countries. This is because water is often treated at the municipal level with disinfectants like chlorine.

While it may not occur as often as it does in developing world areas, people do get sick from water borne illnesses in developed countries and Cryptosporidium (commonly called Crypto) is often the culprit.

More sinister than many other water contaminants, crypto can cause mild to severe diarrhea if ingested (a condition known as cryptosporidiosis).

The reason cases of cryptosporidiosis occur more often than many other water borne illnesses is because of the physical make-up of Cryptosporidium. In cyst form, it has a hard outer shell that won’t even break down in the face of chlorine. In fact, crypto has been known to survive for several days in a chlorinated swimming pool!

Crypto is transmitted via fecal matter. The waste of an infected person is released into the water and then another person ingests the cyst and becomes infected themselves. Take a look at the picture below to get an idea for the organism’s life-cycle.


So what can be done to prevent crypto infection? For one, if you are swimming in a public swimming pool, make sure you do not swallow any of the water. Furthermore, make sure you take a shower with soap after you get out of the pool.

When it comes to drinking water, there are far fewer cases (compared to recreational swimming), but they still occur. You should add an extra layer of filtering to your tap water. You can do this with a filter like the PUR DS-1800Z or with something more involved (and expensive), like a whole house system. Regardless of whether you are concerned about crypto you should be filtering your water anyways for a number of reasons (for example, chlorine, which is used as a disinfectant in municipal tap water, is not good for you and it is best to remove it from your water with a filter).

If you do happen to get infected with cryptosporidiosis, there are several treatment options. Typically, you will be prescribed to an antiparasitic medication like Nitazoxanide, which can shorten the length of the diarrhea. Untreated, the diarrhea can last several weeks. If you are experiencing diarrhea from cryptosporidiosis, it is imperative that you rehydrate with adequate amounts of water and electrolytes.

Cryptosporidiosis is rarely fatal in healthy adults. Infants and the elderly are the most vulnerable to complications. That said, caution must be taken if you do not fall within those categories. Those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk as crypto can cause life threatening complications.

Crypto is found around the world, in both developed and developing countries. It is often found in the very same reservoirs that are used for drinking water. But if you are mindful of your tap water, adding an extra layer of purification in your home, and you take caution when doing any recreational swimming, you shouldn’t have a problem.

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