Southern DHB is reminding the public of the importance of good hand hygiene following an increase in the number of cases of cryptosporidium disease in the district.

During the past two months, there have been 80 cases of cryptosporidium - a parasite found in the gut of humans and animal - in Otago and Southland, more than twice the number of cases usually reported this time of year. 25 of the cases have been children under the age of five, many of whom are living on farms.

Cryptosporidium causes diarrhoea, nausea and stomach pain, and sometimes vomiting and fever. People become infected from ingesting the parasite from contact with sick animals especially any faecal material, by drinking contaminated water or touching their mouths with contaminated hands.

“We usually see more cases this time of year as lambing and calving can increase people’s exposure to this protozoa and other bacteria which can cause gastroenteritis-type illnesses.” says Dr Marion Poore, Southern DHB Medical Officer of Health and Public Health Physician. “The best way to avoid illness is good hand hygiene practices, involving washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds and drying them thoroughly with a clean towel. This is especially important after working with animals, and before eating or smoking.

“Anyone working with livestock should change out of their work clothes before going about routine family or non-farm related activities.”

Complications of cryptosporidium disease are rare but it is unpleasant and the parasite can be easily spread. Symptoms will usually appear within seven days of exposure, but can occur anywhere from one to 12 days.

Those infected with cryptosporidium should stay away from work, school and preschool until symptom-free for 48 hours to reduce the risk of spreading the infection and should avoid using public swimming pools for two weeks after the symptoms have gone.

There is no treatment for cryptosporidium but symptomatic treatment with fluids and any medications prescribed by a GP or health professional is the recommended management. While most people infected with cryptosporidium recover without intervention, recovery can take weeks. Patients are advised to seek further medical advice if not recovering.

“We need to focus on preventing the spread of the parasite and we encourage everyone to be vigilant about hand-washing as the best way to help prevent the spread of the disease.”

About Cryptosporidium

Cryptosporidium is a notifiable illness and is widespread in New Zealand. It can live in the environment for long periods, especially in lakes, rivers, streams and roof water.

Reduce the spread of cryptosporidium with good hand hygiene. Wash hands and dry thoroughly:

·         After touching animals, especially farm animals

·         After going to the toilet or changing nappies

·         Before eating, preparing or handling food.

·         After caring for anyone with cryptosporidium