Cryptosporidia--who is at risk?

Schweiz Med Wochenschr. 1995 May 6;125(18):899-908.


Cryptosporidium parvum is a coccidian parasite originally described a century ago and, until recently, not considered to be a human pathogen. It has a complex life cycle, including both sexual and asexual reproduction, an auto-infectious cycle, and the ability to complete its development within a single host. The transmission form is a robust, environmentally resistant oocyst, excreted in the stool, which can exist for long periods of time in the environment. Because animals, in particular domesticated livestock, are its primary host, human infection is usually zoonotic. Oocysts often find their way into water supplies, and it resists chlorination and is incompletely filtered from processed drinking water supplies, even when filtration is working optimally. Transmission via ingestion of fecally contaminated swimming pool water, food, fomites, and sexual activities facilitating fecal-oral inoculation have been demonstrated. The major target of C. parvum in the host is the intestinal epithelial cell, resulting in diarrhea, sometimes profuse and persistent, although it may also infect other organs such as the gall bladder and lungs. Pathogenesis involves attachment, probably via a sporozoite lectin, invasion, probably involving apical organelles, replication within a parasitophorous vacuole with the host cell membrane, causing cellular dysfunction. Diagnosis is generally made by visualization of the oocyst form in stool by staining methods, the best of which appears to be auramine and fluorescence microscopy. Those at greatest risk are immunocompromised adults and children, especially those with AIDS, children in day care, travelers to endemic regions, dairy or cattle farm workers of their families or contacts, household contacts of cases or carriers, and possibly owners of infected dogs or cats or their neighbors. There is no specific therapy available, however in the immunocompetent host the illness is self-limited, lasting from a few days to 3 weeks, and long term carriage is uncommon. In the immunocompromised host, infection is prolonged, sometimes asymptomatic, but may result in chronic debilitating diarrhea with dehydration, malabsorption and wasting. Public health measures to reduce contamination of water supplies and vigilant surveillance will reduce the risk to populations. Reducing behaviors favoring fecal-oral transmission, such as certain sexual activities, and scrupulous hygiene in the day care setting would also reduce the likelihood of transmission but not eliminate it. Given our lack of knowledge about Cryptosporidium biology and pathogenesis, high priority should be given to research designed to increase our understanding of the organism and improve the chance of developing useful therapeutic or preventative drugs or strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Carrier State / parasitology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cryptosporidiosis / parasitology*
  • Cryptosporidiosis / transmission
  • Cryptosporidium / pathogenicity
  • Cryptosporidium / physiology
  • Feces / parasitology
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Humans
  • Immunocompromised Host
  • Infant
  • Zoonoses / parasitology