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Surge in Cryptosporidiosis Cases Prompts Urgent Health Warning from Australian Officials

In NSW and Queensland, officials advise people who have had diarrhoea to refrain from swimming for at least two weeks after to avoid spreading the parasitic disease.

There has been an alarming increase in Cryptosporidiosis cases in New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland, leading health officials to issue warnings about post-diarrhoeal swimming. This is in order to prevent the spread of the parasite.

NSW has reported 498 cases of cryptosporidiosis so far this year, compared to the usual five-year average of 95. Meanwhile, Queensland has seen an even higher number of cases, with over 823 infections compared to just 56 in January 2023.

Cryptosporidiosis is caused by a parasite that infects the intestine, leading to watery diarrhoea and stomach cramps. Other symptoms may include fever, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Children under the age of ten account for almost half of the cases in NSW.

Those with weakened immune systems can develop a severe, chronic, and sometimes fatal illness. The parasite survives in water for many days, even in chlorinated pools. In previous instances, very large outbreaks have been caused by infected individuals going swimming.

NSW Executive Director of Health Protection, Dr. Jeremy McAnulty, explained that the disease is contracted by swallowing water containing the parasites while swimming.

He advised people who have experienced diarrhoea to avoid swimming for at least two weeks post-recovery. This is because almost half of the reported cases this year were due to swimming during the exposure period. With a high proportion of affected young children, it’s important for parents to stay alert for symptoms.

Complicating matters further, the symptoms of Cryptosporidiosis appear within two to 10 days after exposure. But some people may have no symptoms at all. After recovering from the disease, it’s advised to avoid sharing towels for two weeks and handling food for 48 hours. Children with diarrhoea should stay home from school or childcare until 24 hours after their symptoms have stopped.

To prevent the disease, people are advised to wash their hands thoroughly and regularly, avoid swallowing water while swimming, and steer clear of waterways and beaches after heavy rain.

Victoria has also seen a surge in Cryptosporidiosis cases since the beginning of September 2023, while several European countries and New Zealand have reported an increase as well. The disease typically peaks during warmer months when more people swim in public pools. The parasites that cause Cryptosporidiosis are highly resistant to the chlorine levels found in swimming pools. Boiling water is an effective method of killing the Cryptosporidium parasite.

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