February 8, 2024
Health authorities are urging Queenslanders to prioritise good hygiene habits after an increase in cases of diarrhoea caused by a common parasite.
Cryptosporidiosis is a gastrointestinal disease caused by the microscopic parasite Cryptosporidium, and is a common cause of acute diarrhoea in young children.
As well as infecting humans, Cryptosporidium occurs in a variety of animals including cattle, sheep, dogs and cats.
Queenslanders have been urged not to use swimming pools, water parks or other recreational water facilities for two weeks after experiencing diarrhoea.
Since the start of 2024, more than 823 cryptosporidiosis cases have been reported in Queensland (up to February 7).
A total of 736 were reported in January 2024 – 13 times higher than the numbers reported in January last year (56), and more than the annual totals for 2021 (569) and 2022 (568).
NSW and Victoria are also reporting similar increases in cryptosporidiosis notifications in recent weeks.
Although most cases were recorded in metropolitan areas, the Darling Downs Health Service – which covers all the South Burnett – also reported an increase in cases.
Children aged nine years and under accounted for 39 per cent of the 736 notifications in January.
A further 24 per cent of notifications were in the 30-39 years age group.
Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr John Gerrard said Cryptosporidium was usually acquired through eating or drinking contaminated food or water, or through contact with infected people or animals.
“Drinking or accidentally swallowing water contaminated with Cryptosporidium parasites is a common mode of transmission,” he said.
“This can occur in various settings including swimming pools, water parks, and other recreational water facilities where water may be contaminated with faecal matter.
“The most common symptom of cryptosporidiosis is diarrhoea, especially in young children. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fever, headache and loss of appetite.
“People with cryptosporidiosis can remain infectious for a short time after symptoms have ended.
“To prevent spreading the infection, people with cryptosporidiosis should avoid swimming pools, water parks or other recreational water facilities for at least 14 days after diarrhoea has ceased.
“It’s important to wash hands thoroughly after going to the toilet, changing nappies, and after cleaning up animal faeces to minimise transmission of disease.
“You should also wash the hands of toddlers and babies after a nappy change.
“Children with diarrhoea should not return to childcare or school until diarrhoea has ceased for 24 hours.”
Dr Gerrard said people could also minimise risk by washing fruit and vegetables before eating them, boiling any untreated water and then cooling it before drinking, and avoid swimming in rivers, creeks or dams for a week after heavy rain.
There is no specific treatment for cryptosporidiosis, however it is important to stay hydrated.
People experiencing severe illness, difficulty maintaining adequate fluid intake or long-lasting diarrhoea should seek medical advice.