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CRYPTOSPORIDIUM FACT SHEET for members of the public

What is cryptosporidium? Cryptosporidium is a parasite (a tiny organism) that causes an infection called cryptosporidiosis affecting people and farmed animals. Symptoms include watery diarrhoea, stomach pains, dehydration, weight loss and fever which could last for up to three weeks but it can affect people with weak immune systems for much longer.

How do you get infected with cryptosporidium? You can get cryptosporidiosis directly from another person or animal by touching faeces, (for example when changing a nappy) and putting your hands near or in your mouth without washing them thoroughly. You can also get cryptosporidiosis from infected animals or by swimming in, or drinking contaminated water. Occasionally you can be infected by eating and drinking contaminated food, particularly unpasteurised milk, under cook meat and offal (liver, kidneys, and heart). On average, it takes from 7 to 10 days for the symptoms to develop. Anyone can get cryptosporidiosis, but it is most common in children aged between one and five years. People who care for, or work with children are more at risk than others. It can be a serious illness in people who have immune systems that are not working properly.

How can you avoid passing cryptosporidium to others? Cryptosporidiosis is highly infectious so you need to be meticulously clean around your home. You are infectious to other people while you are ill and have symptoms. Take the following steps to avoid passing the illness to others: 9 Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after going to the toilet. 9 Help young children to wash their hands properly. 9 Do not prepare food for others until you have been symptom free for at least 48 hours. 9 Wash all dirty clothes, bedding and towels on the hottest possible cycle of the washing machine. 9 Clean toilet seats, toilet bowls, flush handles, taps and wash hand basins after use with detergent and hot water, followed by a household disinfectant. 9 Stay away from work, school and family and friends’ gatherings until you have been symptom free for 48 hours 9 Do not go swimming until you have been clear of diarrhoea for at least two weeks 9 If you work with vulnerable groups such as the elderly, the young, those in poor health, or if you handle food at work you should tell your employer that you have had cryptosporidium infection Produced as part of a GI toolkit in collaboration between London Health Protection Units and London Local Authority Environmental Health Officers – February 2011

How do you treat cryptosporidium? There is no specific treatment for cryptosporidiosis. It is important to drink plenty of fluids. Most people with a healthy immune system will recover within one month.

The Health Protection Agency, the Environmental Health Officer and cryptosporidium We look for the possible source of the infection so that we can help to prevent other people from becoming infected. We also monitor outbreaks of cryptosporidium and look for any patterns or trends which show possible connections between the people who are affected. If you have concerns about your health contact NHS Direct on 0845 4647, visit NHS Choices website on, or see your family doctor. Further information is available on the HPA website: If you have any further questions, please contact your Environmental Health Officer at: 0208 496 3000 or

Produced as part of a GI toolkit in collaboration between London Health Protection Units and London Local Authority Environmental Health Officers – February 2011

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