Meet the spreading ‘crypto’ parasite infecting millions of humans

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While crypto continues to plague investors, a parasite with the same name is linked to at least 200,000 deaths per year — and it’s on the rise in the US and Europe.

The Cryptosporidium parasite, commonly referred to as crypto, is the leading cause of waterborne disease outbreaks in the US, according to the most recent report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). However, it’s found the world over and is happy to infect both animals and humans.

Mainly causing illness in young children, crypto’s most common symptom is watery diarrhea for two to three weeks, but it can also cause nausea, vomiting, and fever.

The Cryptosporidium parasite is tiny, usually between 3–6 μm in size (via CDC).

Cryptosporidium is known as a protozoan, a single-celled organism which is able to rapidly multiply in its host animal. Crypto lives in the gut of its victim and normally spreads through faecal matter.

It’s highly resilient; a protective outer shell means it can survive outside the host and remain infectious for up to eight months. The tough little parasite is also resistant to chlorine and alcohol-based hand sanitizer, although it won’t survive boiling water.

  • An infected person can shed between 10 million to 100 million crypto parasites in a single bowel movement.
  • The parasite can still be found in stool weeks after symptoms subside.
  • It can take just 10 crypto germs to cause an infection.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, washing hands with soap (especially after handling animals) and avoiding swallowing water while swimming will limit exposure to the parasite and its effects. Apart from humans, crypto is most commonly found in sheep, cows, and goats.

The crypto parasite is on the rise globally

In North America and Europe, Cryptosporidium often spreads in the summer when families visit public pools and petting zoos, although it can also be found in contaminated food.

In 2018, over 14,000 Cryptosporidiosis cases were reported across the EU and EEA. Four countries accounted for 76% of the cases — the UK, Ireland, Germany, and the Netherlands, with the UK accounting for the majority.

Distribution of confirmed cryptosporidiosis cases per 100,000 population in the EU/EEA in 2018, via the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Read more: Is unvaccinated sperm really the next Bitcoin?

According to the ECDC and the CDC, cases continue to be on the rise. In fact, reported incidents in the US have increased 47.2% between 2010 and 2019 — an estimated 823,000 cases occur in the US annually. However, the major disease control agencies note that increased testing resources could be the main contributor to elevated case numbers.

Indeed, the countries in Europe reporting the highest number of cases also dedicate the most resources to crypto parasite monitoring.

Reported Cryptosporidiosis cases per 100,000 population per year in the United States, via the CDC.

However, the parasite is most keenly felt in developing nations where diarrhea can contribute to sometimes deadly health complications as well as malnutrition and stunted growth. It’s estimated that between 2.9 million and 4.7 million children younger than two become ill from the parasite in sub-Saharan Africa, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Nepal.

In the US, between 2009 and 2017, one death from the parasite was recorded and only 287 cases required hospitalization. Comparatively, at least 200,000 deaths are recorded in relation to crypto each year in sub-Saharan Africa, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Nepal combined.

Despite these facts and figures, there remains a lack of research dedicated to the understanding of the rate of crypto parasite infection. Indeed, a correlation between increased testing and rising figures could indicate that many cases of crypto go unreported or undetected.

So, in case you needed a reminder: wash your hands.

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