An intestinal infection characterized by diarrhea caused by a microscopic parasite, Cryptosporidium parvum. The parasite lives in the small intestine of humans and animals who pass it in their feces. The parasite is protected by an outer shell that allows it to survive outside the body for long periods of time and makes it resistant to chlorine disinfection. Both the disease and the parasite are popularly known as “Crypto.” The disease is also called cryptosporidium enteritis.

Crypto is one of the most common causes of waterborne disease in the world, including the US. It is transmitted by the fecal-oral route. Outbreaks have been traced to different sources such as contaminated water supplies, swimming pools and lakes, and unpasteurized cider. Crypto can infect people of all ages. The disease is usually self-limited and resolves in about 2 weeks although young children and pregnant women are among those who are especially susceptible to dehydration. However, the main danger that Crypto presents is for people with immunodeficiency who are at risk for wasting and malnutrition which can be so severe as to be life-threatening.

The diagnosis of Crypto may be confirmed by testing stool samples for ova and parasites. There is no reliable treatment for the disease. Dehydration should be prevented or treated. The immune system of people with immunodeficiency should, if possible, be strengthened. For persons with AIDS, antiretroviral therapy that improves the immune status also decreases or eliminates the symptoms of Crypto. To prevent Crypto, proper sanitation and hygiene are essential. People who are immunodeficient it is recommended that they boil water for at least 1 minute. Certain water filters can reduce the risk by filtering out Crypto.

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