Last week, I introduced three parasitic infections that lead to intestinal discomfort. Although those infections all have similar symptoms, they are slightly different in the way that they infect and how they can be treated. For this week’s blog, I am going to be focusing on the effects of Cryptosporidiosis and how this infection can be treated and prevented.
The infection known as “Crypto” is a common intestinal infection caused by a microscopic parasitic protist. This parasite is protected by an outer shell, which allows it to survive without a host for long periods of time and makes it tolerant to chemicals such as chlorine. Therefore, this parasite is easily spread through water, mostly drinking water and recreational water such as pools. The parasite itself enters the body through ingestion and lives in the intestines of infected humans. Crypto can only be spread through ingestion, not through physical contact or contact with blood. If a drinking water source is contaminated, then the infection can spread rapidly through a community. This is also the case if an infection spreads in a recreational pool, and water is ingested by a swimmer. Although the rates of infection in the United States are low, there are still cases. Rates of infection are much higher in rural areas and especially high in sub-Saharan Africa. In many sub-Saharan countries, the positivity rate of Crypto is upwards of 40%, with the highest positivity being in children under 12 years old and those infected with HIV.
How does this infection spread?
Similar to the discussion on schistosomiasis, this disease is spread due to poor sanitation practices. In rural areas, drinking water and water used for sanitation are not kept at a safe distance, and therefore, the drinking water can become contaminated. Fecal matter in the water of even soil near a drinking water source allows the parasite to continue to contaminate water and infect more hosts. Once an unsuspecting host ingests infected water, the parasite moves into the intestines and attaches itself to the walls. Similar to a tapeworm, the parasite absorbs necessary nutrients and leads to a diarrheal infection in the individual. After about 7-10 days, the parasite begins to lay eggs and shed them as the individual excretes feces. The parasite’s eggs are then set free into a water source, where they can mature, and they are passed onto the next host, continuing the cycle of infection. Without safe water practices, this disease continues to spread and infect communities.
Although the symptoms of Crypto may not seem severe, they can become severe when not treated.
In the U.S., diarrheal infections are easily treated and often pass in a few days to weeks. However, in rural Africa, treatment is not easily accessible. Since diarrheal infections cause rapid and excessive loss of fluid, it is important to stay hydrated during an infection. However, in rural areas, it is nearly impossible to maintain the necessary level of hydration to prevent further complications. Since many villages are only able to get enough water to do the absolute basic tasks and provide enough water to drink, there is no extra water to spare for those with the diarrheal infection. Anti-diarrheal medications are also difficult to access in rural areas due to price and lack of modern medicine. The most commonly prescribed anti-diarrheal and anti-parasitic is Nitazoxanide. This drug is an antiprotozoal drug, and it averages around $300 for a prescription here in the U.S. This drug is not only expensive, but not accessible for individuals in rural communities.
How do individuals in these regions overcome this type of infection?
Individuals in rural communities are usually unable to access treatment and therefore have to let the infection run its course. The downtime for these infections in rural Africa can last weeks to months, which is not only difficult on the individual, but is also on the community. The infection doesn’t only infect one individual but often infects many and can be devastating to the village. Without the support of all its members, it puts a bigger burden on those who are not suffering or suffering as severely. This excessive burden can run down those who must pick up the slack and can lead to exhaustion. Those who are infected can also suffer further complications with symptoms such as fever, vomiting, and weight loss. Individuals with weakened immune systems, such as children and those suffering from HIV, are more likely to develop serious symptoms and the infection can possibly become fatal.
This disease is just one of many reasons why providing clean water to these communities is so important. Thank you so much for reading this week’s blog post and providing your support to better these communities. Make sure to check back next week where I will be discussing the parasitic infection Giardiasis, how it infects and how it can be treated.