Cryptosporidium – commonly referred to as just ‘Crypto’ – is a microscopic parasite that lives naturally inside of animals. It is very common to find Crypto in lakes and ponds in the countryside, where it passes through and is deposited into the water via animal waste.
Crypto’s ubiquity means it also frequently makes its way into reservoirs and other water supplies. It has a nasty tendency to appear in swimming pools; especially during the summer holidays.
What’s disturbing about this parasite is that it seems to have evolved a defence mechanism to resist cleaning agents. For example, Crypto has a protective “shell” that even chlorine is unable to breakdown. Once it contaminates a water supply, infection can spread quickly. In 2016, more than 223 people in Devon and Dorset fell ill to an outbreak that stemmed from a contaminated swimming pool, causing illness, diarrhoea and other misery.
Most symptoms are aggressive — vomiting, diarrhoea and fever — but relatively short lived. But in immunocompromised people, Crypto can actually be fatal.
Given the extent that Crypto can be found throughout the natural world, and especially in the UK, the parasite’s reputation is perhaps underrated. Mention the term to a friend or family member, and it is highly unlikely they will even have heard of it. No wonder cases of the parasite is increasing.
With this in mind, what can actually be done to avoid catching the Crypto bug?
Some of the main causes of Crypto come from public swimming pools and through touching animals, or swimming in water sources that are contaminated (usually this means water filled with animal waste).
In the case of swimming pools, the disturbing truth is, the parasite often gets in via other (contaminated) swimmers defecating or urinating in the pool.
If you still want to go swimming after reading this, keep your head above the water, and definitely do not swallow the pool water!
Animals carry many pathogens, you should wash your hands after touching them anyway — including even the cat and the dog. As for the third main cause of infection, the same rules as for the swimming pool apply.
Cryptosporidium at Home
More insidiously, however, Crypto can get into our own water supply at home. This can happen when regular drinking water is contaminated with sewage overflows, or when the sewage systems are not working properly.
A bad storm, or excess agricultural run-off, can all place the parasite squarely in our homes.
The best way to deal with the parasite then, is to be vigilant. In the shower and the bath, try not to expose your eyes or mouth to the parasite. This is easier said than done, but not impossible. And can even become second nature after a few weeks of conscious practice.
The biggest problem — you might be thinking — is that such vigilance basically puts an end to drinking tap water at home. Not quite. Water filters are a good block to the parasite, and keep it out along with other pollutants.
You can also use cartridges and tablets to safely cleanse Crypto, so you can keep drinking water from the tap quite comfortably.
If you suspect a contamination in the house, contact your water supplier.
Another way Crypto can make its way into the home is after making its way into your pet first. Be mindful, and especially when letting your pet outside (and especially if you are taking the dog for a walk), not to let it drink anything that you wouldn’t drink.
Dealing with a Cryptosporidium Infection
Inside the body, Cryptosporidium can cause an illness called cryptosporidiosis. Symptoms typically last about two weeks but can go on for a month. That’s a long time to be ill. Fortunately, in most cases, the body can kick out the pathogen without any outside help.
In other cases, antiparasitic medication may be needed. In order to curtail the spread of the parasite, it is important not to return to work for at least 48 hours after showing symptoms — and especially if you work with the elderly, the ill, or children. If you suspect you have the parasite speak to your GP, who may be able to at least offer you painkillers for the abdominal cramps.
In most cases, the only way to beat cryptosporidiosis is to ride it out. This includes drinking plenty of fluids to replace those lost as diarrhoea and vomiting, to remain hydrated and keep your body mineralised.
It is estimated that a quarter of us is at risk of becoming infected by the Crypto bug at any one time. Don’t let it happen.
This article was written by Neil Wright on behalf of Pure Freedom, a company that manufactures equipment for professional window cleaners.
Water filters are a good block to the parasite, and keep it out along with other pollutants. #Cryptosporidium