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Cryptosporidiosis is an illness you get from the parasite Cryptosporidium. It causes watery diarrhea and other gastrointestinal (gut) symptoms. In addition to stomach infection, this parasite can infect the respiratory system causing a cough and/or problems breathing.

The family Cryptosporididae belongs to the phylum Apicomplexa characterized by an anterior (or apical) polar complex (with apical rings, micronemes, and subpellicular microtubules), which allows penetration into host cells. Cryptosporidium species are able to infect a broad range of hosts including humans, domestic and wild animals (mammals, birds, fish, marsupials, reptiles, and amphibians) worldwide.

Transmission and Life Cycle

Humans and animals become infected with Cryptosporidium by touching anything that has come in contact with contaminated feces, although the most common mode of transmission is represented by ingestion of oocysts in contaminated food and water or air.

Cryptosporidium has three developmental stages: meronts, gamonts, and oocysts. They reproduce within the intestinal epithelial cells. Two types of oocysts, thick-walled and thin-walled, are produced during sexual reproduction. Thick-walled oocysts are excreted from the host into the environment, whereas thin-walled oocysts are involved in the internal autoinfective cycle and are not recovered from stools. Oocysts are infectious upon excretion, thus enabling direct and immediate fecal-oral transmission.

Clinical Symptoms

The most common symptoms of cryptosporidiosis are watery diarrhea and stomach cramps. Other symptoms may include fever, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Symptoms and severity of infection vary with the age and immune status of the host. Cryptosporidium infections are uncommonly detected in cats and dogs. Cryptosporidiosis can sometimes make dogs and cats sick, but animals with signs are atypical. In most cases, epithelial damage is minimal, but in severe cases, infection is associated with losing the ability to maintain water balance. Clinical signs are usually restricted to mild diarrhea unless the host is immunosuppressed or has another underlying condition such as viral infection or malignancy.


Cryptosporidiosis is a diarrheal disease that is spread through contact with the stool of an infected person or animal. The disease is diagnosed by examining stool samples. Oocyst excretion is intermittent, and multiple stool samples may be needed. Diagnostic methods include:

  1. Microscopic examination: Typically, stool samples are analyzed microscopically using various techniques, including acid-fast staining and Ziehl-Nielsen staining.
  2. Real-time PCR: The most accurate method for detecting Cryptosporidium spp. is through a fecal PCR assay.
  3. Immunologic tests: These include direct fluorescent antibody tests and enzyme immunoassays to detect Cryptosporidium sp. antigens.


Treatment and Prevention

Most patients with healthy immune systems will recover from cryptosporidiosis without treatment. Supportive measures, oral or parenteral rehydration, and hyperalimentation may be needed for immunocompromised patients with severe disease.

The best way to prevent the spread of Cryptosporidium at home is by practicing good hygiene.


  1. Sardinha-Silva A, Alves-Ferreira EVC, Grigg ME. Intestinal immune responses to commensal and pathogenic protozoa. Front Immunol. 2022 Sep 16;13:963723.
  2. Sponseller JK, Griffiths JK, Tzipori S. The evolution of respiratory Cryptosporidiosis: evidence for transmission by inhalation. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2014 Jul;27(3):575-86.
  3. Watier-Grillot S, Costa D, Petit C, et al. Cryptosporidiosis outbreaks linked to the public water supply in a military camp, France. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2022 Sep 12;16(9):e0010776.