Cryptosporidiosis Definition and Meaning

Diarrheal disease is called cryptosporidiosis. It is caused by Cryptosporidia.

What is cryptosporidiosis?

Cryptosporidiosis becomes noticeable through pronounced watery diarrhea. This threatens a considerable loss of liquid. See AbbreviationFinder for abbreviations related to Cryptosporidiosis.

Cryptosporidiosis is one of the diarrheal diseases and is caused by the parasite Cryptosporidium. Cryptosporidia are unicellular parasites and are found in around 40 species of vertebrates. These include cattle, sheep, goats and horses, but also cats, dogs and birds.

Cryptosporidiosis rarely occurs in humans. However, people who suffer from a cellular immune deficiency disease such as AIDS are considered at risk. Cryptosporidia can be found all over the world. Sometimes they also infect healthy people who show no symptoms. The parasites are excreted in the stool.

Cryptosporidia can be found in the faeces of 1 to 4 percent of all non-diseased people. A higher incidence of cryptosporidiosis than in industrialized countries can be recorded in developing countries. In addition to AIDS patients, people at risk of developing cryptosporidiosis also include people who have to undergo immunosuppression due to organ transplantation.

But there is also an increased risk of infection in smaller children up to 24 months. In Germany, cryptosporidiosis is subject to medical reporting.


Cryptosporidiosis is caused by the Cryptosporidium genera Cryptosporidium parvum and Cryptosporidium hominis, which belong to the parasitic protozoa. In contrast, other cryptosporidia such as Cryptosporidium felis or Cryptosporidium canis rarely cause the infection.

The excretion of pathogens from the body of animals takes place through oocysts. These are egg-like reproductive stages of Cryptosporidia. In most cases, humans become infected with the parasites through contaminated water. Drinking water or bath water can also be infected by the germs.

There is also a risk that fruit and vegetables that are cleaned with contaminated water will also be contaminated. Another source of infection is meat infected with cryptosporidia. Transmission from person to person or from animal to person is also possible through smear infections.

If the oocysts enter the human body, they penetrate into the small intestine. There, infectious sporozoites are released. Through reproduction, these can multiply and subsequently form more oocysts, which in turn are excreted with the faeces. They pose a risk of infection for about two years.

Because thin-walled oocysts often rupture in the intestine, there is a risk of auto-infection, which is particularly true for people with a weakened immune system. The incubation period for cryptosporidiosis is between one and twelve days. In most cases, the disease occurs seven to ten days after the onset of infection. Even after the symptoms have subsided, there is still a risk of infection for several weeks.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Cryptosporidiosis becomes noticeable through pronounced watery diarrhea. This threatens a considerable loss of liquid. Furthermore, symptoms such as fever, nausea, abdominal pain and weight loss can set in. If the person has an intact immune system, the symptoms recede after a week.

In the case of an immune deficiency or in babies, however, there is a risk of complications. This includes dehydration (decrease in body fluids). Usually, the symptoms of cryptosporidiosis are limited to the intestinal region. However, if the patient suffers from AIDS, colonization of the parasites in other parts of the body is also possible. These primarily include the liver and the bile ducts.


Due to cryptosporidiosis, those affected suffer from very severe diarrhea. As a result, the quality of life of the person affected is also significantly restricted and reduced, so that there are also restrictions in the patient’s everyday life. Due to the permanent diarrhea, the patient also loses a lot of fluids, so that they also suffer from increased thirst.

Furthermore, the immune system can also be weakened due to cryptosporidiosis, so that patients are more likely to contract infections or inflammation. Complications can occur when those affected are already suffering from a weakened immune system and are also suffering from AIDS, for example. The liver and gallbladder can also be severely damaged by this disease.

The treatment of cryptosporidiosis usually depends on the cause of the disease. In most cases, however, the symptoms disappear again after a few days, so that there are no special complications or restrictions. In other cases, treatment with the help of medication must take place so that the symptoms can be limited. Without treatment, various complications can occur. If the person also has AIDS, the disease can also be fatal if left untreated.

When should you go to the doctor?

If diarrhea, fever, nausea, abdominal pain and other signs of cryptosporidiosis are noticed, it is advisable to see a doctor as soon as possible. Although diarrhea is usually not life-threatening, it must be monitored by a doctor due to the severe loss of fluids. Ideally, people who suffer from the symptoms mentioned should go to the doctor’s office immediately and have the symptoms clarified. Medical advice must be sought after two to three days at the latest if the symptoms have not improved in the meantime. If you have any other symptoms, it is advisable to see a doctor.

HIV patients and people with an immune deficiency should inform the responsible specialist about the symptoms. Babies and toddlers with diarrhea must always be taken to the pediatrician. In extreme cases, the parents should take the child to a hospital or call the emergency services directly. Cryptosporidiosis is treated by a general practitioner or an internist. Severe dehydration or a high fever may require treatment in the intensive care unit.

Treatment & Therapy

In order to be able to diagnose cryptosporidiosis, a microscopic detection of the parasites in the patient’s stool is required. For this purpose, several stool samples must be submitted. The samples are analyzed under the microscope on different days.

In addition, antigens of the cryptosporidia can also be detected, but this is of less significance. This means that only a determination at the generic level can be carried out. A histological diagnosis can be made from tissue samples obtained from the small intestine using an endoscope.

The course and duration of cryptosporidiosis depend on whether there is an immune deficiency and how severe it is. Most people clear up after a week or two and have immunity to the parasites for the rest of their lives.

In the case of an immune deficiency such as AIDS, however, the disease often takes a chronic course, so that the symptoms continue. If the immune system is severely weakened, there is even a risk of the disease becoming fatal.

Outlook & Forecast

The prognosis of cryptosporidiosis is considered favorable. When medical care is sought, medicines are given. These work within a few days, so that recovery usually occurs within two weeks. A special feature of the disease is that reinfestation with the disease-causing germs is no longer possible later in life. The body develops immunity to the parasites that lead to cryptosporidiosis.

The prognosis worsens in patients who have a weakened immune system. There may be delays in the healing process. In addition, a severe impairment of the quality of life is possible. In particularly rare cases, the body’s defense system collapses. This can happen when the patient has reached old age and suffers from additional diseases.

Without the use of medical care, delays in recovery are also to be expected. With a healthy, stable immune system, however, the symptoms will be alleviated within a few weeks. The organism manages to successfully assert itself against the pathogens and kill them. They are then transported out of the body naturally. In people who have pre-existing conditions or an immune deficiency, the prognosis worsens significantly if they refuse medical treatment.


It has not yet been possible to develop a specific treatment for cryptosporidiosis. For this reason, therapy is limited to combating the symptoms. The most important measures include compensating for electrolyte and fluid losses.

If the patient has AIDS, highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) is considered effective. Clinical improvement can also be achieved by administration of the broad-spectrum antibiotic nitrazoxanide. Other helpful medications include the antibiotics azithromycin and paromomycin. In acute episodes of cryptosporidiosis, a combination of azithromycin and nitrazoxanide is not uncommon.

Cryptosporidium oocysts are resistant to all disinfectants. To prevent them, water should be boiled. Hot water heated to 60 degrees Celsius for at least 30 minutes will surely kill the parasites. Contagion can be counteracted by careful hygiene, such as regular hand washing after going to the toilet or before preparing food. It is important that infected people refrain from visiting the sauna or swimming pool.


In the case of cryptosporidiosis, the aftercare measures are often severely limited. The person affected by this disease should primarily consult a doctor at an early stage, so that there are no further complications and no further worsening of the symptoms. Cryptosporidiosis cannot heal itself, so examination and treatment by a doctor is usually always necessary.

Most patients are dependent on taking various medications. The person concerned should always follow the doctor’s instructions and contact them if they have any questions or are unclear. It is also important to ensure that it is taken regularly, whereby of course the correct dosage should also be observed.

In the case of other damage to the body or other complaints, a doctor should also be contacted. In many cases, patients with cryptosporidiosis depend on the help and care of their own families. This can make everyday life much easier for those affected. In many cases, however, cryptosporidiosis reduces the life expectancy of those affected, since complete recovery is usually not possible.

You can do that yourself

People who suspect cryptosporidiosis must first submit several stool samples. With the help of the samples, the doctor can determine the disease and initiate a suitable therapy. Depending on the type of treatment, people can take some actions themselves to promote recovery.

Basically, an active lifestyle with a healthy diet and sufficient exercise is recommended. The considerable loss of liquid can be compensated for by drinking enough water. Nausea and abdominal pain can also be reduced by dietary measures. If fever develops during the course of the disease, the patient must take it easy. The symptoms go away after a few days, as long as the immune system is not further burdened.

If cryptosporidiosis occurs in a child, close medical monitoring is indicated. Parents should pay attention to any symptoms and consult the pediatrician immediately in the event of complications. Special drinking bottles and baby food help to give the child enough food despite the lack of appetite. If the course is positive, these measures are sufficient to support medical treatment. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary. Parents should talk to the doctor in charge about this.


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