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Cryptosporidium: What is the water parasite and how dangerous is it?

Image source, Getty Images

Legend, Cryptosporidium is a small organism that causes disease in humans and some animals.

  • Author, Brodie Owen
  • Role, BBC News, South West

Health authorities are investigating after a number of people in Devon tested positive for a microscopic parasite which can cause stomach upset.

The UK Health and Safety Agency says it is trying to find the source of the cryptosporidium outbreak.

What is the Cryptosporidium parasite and how dangerous is it?

According to health officials, Cryptosporidium is a tiny organism that causes illness in humans and some animals.

It is found in human and animal faeces and can contaminate waterways, swimming pools, raw milk and fresh produce, according to the UK Health Safety Agency (UKHSA).

Anyone can be infected and there is no effective drug treatment for cryptosporidiosis, the main symptom of which is prolonged diarrhea.

Professor Paul Hunter, a specialist in microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of East Anglia, says most people recover after a few weeks, but it can be fatal for a small number of people with severely weakened immune systems. .

He says most people won’t need to see a doctor unless they are seriously ill or are children.

Image source, Alamy live

Legend, Residents given bottled water after cryptosporidium outbreak in Devon

Where was it found in Devon?

“Small traces” of the parasite have been found in Brixham, south Devon, South West Water says.

The water company says it is investigating a reservoir in the area as a potential cause of the outbreak, with more than 20 cases of cryptosporidiosis confirmed so far.

On Wednesday, the company issued an urgent boil water advisory to about 40,000 residents following positive samples.

Up to 100 people have reported symptoms to their GP in the past week, according to the UKHSA.

There are currently no other major outbreaks in the UK.

Is drinking water the only source of epidemics?

Cryptosporidiosis can affect 3,000 to 6,000 people a year in the UK, according to the latest available data.

Professor Hunter, who sits on the World Health Organization’s committee on drinking water quality, says outbreaks are less common these days after new laws were passed requiring UK water companies to perform more tests for cryptosporidium.

However, he says data on outbreaks is no longer regularly published.

“It’s often difficult to know how many outbreaks we’re seeing,” he says.

“Drinking water is not the only cause of outbreaks. We see outbreaks in swimming pools quite often, there have been outbreaks linked to the consumption of unpasteurized milk and we see outbreaks in daycare centers.”

Legend, “Small traces” of the parasite were found in Brixham, South Devon

What to do if Cryptosporidium is found in your area?

Thousands of residents are advised to boil their water before using it for drinking, cooking, preparing food or brushing their teeth.

South West Water says water does not need to be boiled if it is intended for washing, bathing and flushing toilets.

People are also advised to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before handling food and after using the toilet or touching animals, the UKHSA says.

Cryptosporidiosis is “highly contagious” and those with symptoms should wash their clothes in the hottest setting possible and not share towels with anyone, according to the guidelines.

People with the condition should not go swimming for at least two weeks after the diarrhea has stopped.

What are the symptoms of cryptosporidium?

  • profuse watery diarrhea
  • stomach pain
  • nausea or vomiting
  • mild fever
  • loss of appetite which can lead to dehydration and weight loss

The symptoms are similar to other stomach ailments and the only way to definitively confirm the illness is to have a doctor send a sample of your stool for testing in a laboratory, according to health officials.

How to treat cryptosporidium?

Dr Lincoln Sergeant, Torbay Council’s director of public health, says it is vital people stay hydrated if they become infected with the parasite.

Residents in the affected area should boil their water until further notice, he said.

“For the vast majority of people, it is an unpleasant illness, but it usually resolves within a few weeks,” he says.

“Clearly we want them to stay hydrated, and if people manage their symptoms well, they will recover fine.”

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News Source : www.bbc.com
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