June 23, 2024

With a parasite that can cause diarrhea found in the drinking water supply in parts of the south Devonwe look at the organism involved and how infection can be avoided.

What is the parasite in question?

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said on Friday that 46 cases of a highly contagious disease known as cryptosporidiosis confirm in the Brixham area, with more than 100 additional people reporting symptoms.

“Other reported cases of diarrhea and vomiting in residents and visitors to Brixham are also being investigated. More confirmed cases are expected,” UKHSA said.

The disease is caused by a parasite called cryptosporidium – a single-celled organism that can infect humans and animals.

“There are many different species, but two are the main causes of disease in humans. C. parvum whose main host is cattle and C. hominis whose main host is humans,” said Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia.

The main symptoms of infection include stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting, which usually last about two weeks. While most people recover with rest and hydration, cryptosporidiosis can be more serious in people with compromised immune systems.

How do people get cryptosporidiosis?

Briefly, cryptosporidiosis can occur as a result of exposure to contaminated water, and can be spread from person to person and between animals and humans.

“It can be found in the intestines and faeces of infected people and animals, and can be found in lakes, streams and rivers, swimming pools, untreated or poorly treated water, food, especially raw milk and fresh produce, and objects such as farm gates and outdoor boots and clothing ,” notes UKHSA.

As a result, people who come into contact with faeces containing the parasite – including those who work with animals or babies – are at increased risk of becoming infected, as are people who are exposed to contaminated water, contaminated raw milk or unwashed contaminated food.

“Anyone can get cryptosporidiosis, but it is most common in children aged between one and five,” says UKHSA.

How can you avoid infection?

A key recommendation is to wash your hands before preparing or eating food, after using the toilet and after having contact with animals. UKHSA also advises people not to swallow water in lakes and swimming pools and stresses the importance of not drinking untreated water.

The agency adds affected households should ensure that clothes and bedding are washed at a high temperature, while towels should not be shared, and toilets and other bathroom fixtures and fittings should be disinfected. Those who have experienced symptoms, it adds, should not return to work or school until 48 hours have passed since the last episode of vomiting or diarrhea, while swimming should be avoided for 14 days after such episodes have ended.

Earlier this week, South West Water told residents in the Brixham area to boil their water before drinking it cool, while bottled water was distributed to residents, local businesses and schools.

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