What is it? What causes it?
Cryptosporidiosis (krip-toe-spo-rid-ee-OH-sis) is a parasitic illness that causes diarrhea, and is caused by the microscopic parasite Cryptosporidium parvum. Both the parasite and the disease that it causes are referred to as “Crypto.”

So what is this “Cryptowhatie” parasite, and how do I get some?
Cryptosporidium parvum is a microscopic (between two and six micrometers in size) unicellular parasite that can live in the intestines of humans and animals (both wild and domestic). It is protected by an outer shell known as an oocyst (oh-oh-cist) that enables it to survive without a host for an extended period of time. In the past twenty or so years, Crypto has been recognized as one of the most common causes of waterborne disease in humans in the United States, though the parasite can be found anywhere in the world that is contaminated by animal droppings or human waste.

You can be infected should you happen to swallow Cryptosporidium oocysts, either from contaminated food or water, or by contact with contaminated stool. Crypto can be extremely contagious, requiring between 10 and 1000 oocysts to cause disease in humans, although 100 oocysts have a 50% chance of being an infectious dose.

OK, so I have Crypto. What now?
The Crypto oocysts are infectious immediately upon contamination. After an incubation period of 2 to 10 days, you may experience symptoms including watery diarrhea, stomach cramps and upset stomach, and a slight fever, although some people have no symptoms at all. Children between the ages of one and five, pregnant women, and people with deficient immune systems are at risk for more serious symptoms. Lucy-S adds that Crypto can, in addition to causing more serious symptoms in those with diseases that compromise immune systems (AIDS, cancer, and so on), be quite fatal to them.

Infected individuals with healthy immune systems will display symptoms from the illness for up to two weeks, although they may continue to pass Cryptosporidium in their feces for up to two months, during which time they can spread the disease to others. Even if you don’t become ill from swallowing Crypto oocysts, you can still pass the organisms in your feces.

There is no known treatment for Cryptosporidiosis, usually you just have to wait it out. Medication may be prescribed by your doctor to control the diarrhea, but in general it is simply recommended to drink plenty of fluids and get extra bed rest.

Well that was no fun. How do I keep from getting it again?
A couple of ways. First, keep your hands clean by washing them with warm water and soap, especially after using the toilet, changing diapers, and before handling or eating food. Avoid drinking water that has not been treated for contaminants (and even then, do not rely on chemical disinfection, since Crypto is highly resistant to chlorine and/or iodine). Avoid sexual practices that involve hand or mouth exposure to stool. Prepare your food by washing fruit and vegetables and cooking meat well.

If you think you may have contracted Crypto, see your health care provider, who will ask you to submit stool samples for testing. If Crypto is suspected, a lab test for it must be specifically requested, since routine lab tests do not test for it.