Guest Blog: Avoiding Cryptosporidium – The Dangerous Water Parasite That’s Immune To Chlorine
There is a microscopic parasite that lurks in our lakes, reservoirs, streams, public swimming pools, and even occasionally our home water systems. Cryptosporidium – sometimes referred to as just ‘Crypto’ – lives inside of animals, but it often passes into water through cross-contamination with animal faeces.
The most disturbing thing about this parasite is that it has evolved over the years a protective shell that makes it immune to chlorine and other cleaning agents. That is what makes Crypto so dangerous. Once it gets into a water supply, it can spread quickly throughout the population. A big outbreak occurred in 2016, when over 223 people in Devon and Dorset were left bedbound from a Crypto contamination that could be traced back to a single swimming pool.
The symptoms of a Cryptosporidium infection can be aggressive — and can include a high fever, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhoea. Thankfully in most cases, they are relatively short-lived. But in people with repressed immune systems, the immunocompromised, a Crypto infection can sometimes be fatal.
How to avoid Cryptosporidium
Given how common the Crypto bug is throughout nature, and indeed the UK, the parasite’s reputation is probably underrated. Mention ‘Cryptosporidium’ to the average person, and the chances are they will be unfamiliar with the term. This collective ignorance is probably one of the reasons why Crypto-related illnesses are increasing.
So, what can we actually do to avoid catching the Crypto bug?
The primary source of infection seems to come from public swimming pools, or from animal cross-contamination. In the summer, contaminated lakes, streams and rivers, (from animal droppings) are ingested by swimmers, who then carry the bug into their stomachs. Almost all cases come from ingesting infected water.
And unfortunately, in almost all cases this water has at some point been contaminated with urine or faeces carrying the parasite. This is true even in the case of public swimming pools. So if you are reading this, and still want to carry on swimming, remember to keep your head above the water — and definitely try not to swallow any!
Another common mode of transmission is through contact with pets. Pets carry all sorts of pathogens — and not just Crypto — so you should get into the habit of washing the hands every time after touching them (without touching your face in the process).
Cryptosporidium in the home
So far, all of the examples we have discussed have been outside of the home — but what about the water supply at home?
Insidiously, Crypto can get into our own water supply when regular drinking water is contaminated with sewage overflows, or when the sewage systems are not working properly. Spill overs like this are more common that one would care to admit. Bad storms, or excessive agricultural run-off, can all place the bug squarely in our homes.
The most effective way to deal with Crypto in the home, then, is to be vigilant. Again, this means avoiding eye and mouth contact with shower and bath water. Of course, this doesn’t sound terribly convenient — but it is far from impossible, and is more of just a habit to get into.
Now, you might be thinking there is a bigger issue. That of drinking water. Actually, there is a convenient problem to this. You can still drink water from the tap without having to worry about Cryptosporidium, as long as you have a water filter. Sometimes these filters can be as simple as a jug that you can buy cheaply from a supermarket. The filters, along with cartridges and purifications tablets, all kill or stop the parasite, along with other pollutants, from making it into the glass of water.
If you suspect a contamination in the house, the best thing to do is to contact your water supplier.
As discussed above, Crypto can hitch a ride into our homes through pets. To prevent your pet from being infected, be mindful of what it drinks. For example, when taking the dog on a walk, do not let it drink from any standing water. In fact, don’t let it drink anything that you wouldn’t.
What to do if you have Cryptosporidiosis
‘Cryptosporidiosis’ is what we call the illness that is inflicted by Cryptosporidium. Once inside the body, the bug can cause a general feeling of unwellness that can last anywhere from two weeks to over a month. It takes the body a long time to remove the parasite, but fortunately in the majority of cases, the body will fight it off without any outside intervention needed. Even once recovered, it is important to wait at least 48-hours before returning to work, to prevent further transmission.
But in some cases, you may need to consult your GP or chemist for some anti-parasitic medication. At the very least, if you have significant abdominal cramps, a chemist can offer painkillers for the abdominal cramps.
Unfortunately, though, the only way to beat cryptosporidiosis is to let nature take its course. In time, the body will develop a resistance to the infection and beat it out. This includes drinking plenty of liquids to replace those lost through diarrhoea and vomiting, and to keep the body mineralised, through supplements if need be.
Scientists believe that up to 25 per cent of the entire UK population is susceptible to a Crypto infection at any one time, with infections increasingly common in summertime. With the uncertainty around Covid-19 and the NHS already high, we can only afford to be more vigilant and guard against Cryptosporidium.
Find out more about Crypto in the infographic below:
This article was written by Neil Wright of Pure Freedom, a company that manufactures window cleaning systems for professional cleaners.