Rapid increase in cryptosporidiosis cases hits Queensland

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Health authorities are urging Queenslanders to prioritise good hygiene habits and not use swimming pools, water parks, and other recreational water facilities for two weeks after experiencing diarrhoea symptoms amid a recent spike in cryptosporidiosis cases.

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.

Since the start of 2024, 823 cryptosporidiosis cases have been reported in Queensland (up to 7 February 2024). 

A total of 736 cases were reported in January 2024 alone – which is thirteen times higher than the numbers reported in January last year (56), and surpasses the annual totals for both 2021 (569) and 2022 (568).

The rise in cases is not unique to Queensland, with New South Wales and Victoria also reporting similar increases in cryptosporidiosis notifications in recent weeks.

Notifications in January 2024 are elevated across Queensland, with the majority of cases recorded in the Brisbane region. West Moreton, Darling Downs, Central Queensland, Townsville, and Mackay Hospital and Health Service regions also recorded an increase in case numbers.

Children aged nine years and under account for 39 per cent of the 736 notifications in January 2024. 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 the ingestion of contaminated water or food, or through contact with infected individuals or animals.

“Drinking or accidentally swallowing water contaminated with Cryptosporidium parasites is a common mode of transmission. This can occur in various settings including swimming pools, water parks, and other recreational water facilities where water may be contaminated with faecal matter,” Dr Gerrard said.

“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 in swimming in pools, water parks or other recreational water facilities for at least 14 days after diarrhoea has ceased.”

When a reported case is known to have visited a public location while infectious, for example a swimming pool or other public aquatic facility, Queensland Health notifies the facility and works with them to minimise the risk of further transmission.

Dr Gerrard said Queenslanders should further be mindful of the following precautions to prevent the spread of infection.

“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,” Dr Gerrard said.

“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,” he said.

Dr Gerrard said people can 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 within 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.

If you are unwell or concerned, please contact your healthcare professional or 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84).

Further information about cryptosporidiosis is available online at Queensland Health Cryptosporidiosis Fact Sheet.