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Reports of Cryptosporidium on the Increase

Renewed calls from the Ministry of Health about the importance of basic hygiene and water quality management, following a nation-wide increase in reports of the infectious disease cryptosporidiosis.

For the year to October 1, a total of 701 cases of "Cryptosporidium" were reported nation-wide, compared to 622 for the same period last year.

Cryptosporidiosis is an infection that causes diarrhoea with stomach cramps and sometimes vomiting.

It can be severe, particularly in people with poor immune systems, that includes people living with HIV/AIDS, recent organ transplant recipients and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Ministry of Health Director of Public Health, Dr Lynne Lane says the source of the disease varies throughout the year, with an increase in reports of Cryptosporidium in Spring and Autumn.

"The reported recent outbreak in Hawke's Bay is related to the traditional increase in reports during Spring, which tends to be rural related and possibly linked to calving. This suggests that the disease is passed between animals and humans and that hand washing after contact with animals is important to prevent infection."

"The Hawke's Bay case is not related to swimming pools at all."

"However in Autumn, the increase in reports tends to be in urban areas and has been related to cryptosporidium contamination in swimming pools."

Dr Lane says personal hygiene and good pool management have a major part to play in preventing outbreaks of cryptosporidiosis.

"Washing your hands after going to the toilet, before meals and handling pets and taking extra care when preparing food are very simple ways of avoiding the spread of many infectious diseases."

Last year there were problems with Cryptosporidium in public swimming pools, and although most cases of the disease may not be associated with swimming pools, precautions should still be taken.

"People should not swim if they have had diarrhoea in the past fortnight and all swimmers should shower before entering a swimming pool."

Cryptosporidiosis has been a notifiable disease in New Zealand since 1996.

ENDS

For further information contact Selina Gentry Media Advisor 04 496 2483/025 277 5411 Internet www.moh.govt.nz


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Cryptosporidium: Fact sheet

Background

Cryptosporidium is a microscopic protozoan parasite. It lives in vertebrate hosts such as man and many other animals including birds, fish and reptiles. Infected animals including man pass eggs in faeces which cause infection when they are swallowed.

It is widely recognised world wide as a common cause of "stomach" upsets (gastroenteritis.)

The Massey University/New Zealand Ministry of Health Protozoa Research Unit has been testing water for Cryptosporidium cysts since 1991. The cysts have been found to be widely distributed in New Zealand waterways.

The complex life cycle of the cryptosporidium parasite is similar to that of malaria. It exists in a number of early stages which live inside host cells.

The Disease, Cryptosporidiosis

Cryptosporidium infection results from the organism being passed between animals, between humans, and between animals and humans. Faecal contamination of the environment can result in cysts being spread via water and food. Person-to-person contact is often responsible for infections in early childhood centres, households and health workers. Travellers are usually infected by contaminated water.

Cryptosporidiosis: symptoms are profuse watery diarrhoea, abdominal pain, vomiting and weight loss. Nausea, flatulence, fever and malaise may also occur. The abdominal pain and diarrhoea may occur immediately after eating.

The incubation period is between 2 -14 days. The duration of the illness is normally 10 - 14 days.

Cryptosporidiosis was made a notifiable disease on 1 June 1996. This means that its diagnosis must be reported to the Medical Officer of Health.

Frequency

In 1998 there were 866 reported cases of cryptosporidiosis in New Zealand.

Treatment

There is no reliable specific treatment for cryptosporidiosis. Fluid and electrolite replacement (rehydration) is important.


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