JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A dangerous parasite is making its mark in Florida and children are those most at risk.
The parasite is called Cryptosporidium and it spreads through the feces from an infected person.
Dr. Brian Stephens of Little Black Bag Medicine says the parasite has been in Duval County for several years.
“It not only affects humans but dogs and cats too. And it’s a very tough parasite,” said Stephens.
The parasite cannot be killed by normal decontamination methods, such as chlorine.
“So what happens is, it gets into the (gastrointestinal) tract into the stomach, it has its part in its life cycle, it sheds spores and then those spores are passed through the feces and they it gets into pools and bodies of water and lakes and streams,” said Stephens.
When it gets into the mouth of another person, the cycle continues. So far this year, cases have just about tripled compared to 2013. In Duval County, there are 65 cases to date.
“It’s a lot more common in children,” said Stephens. “[First] because there is a lot of touching and putting hands in their mouth and not washing them properly, as well as swimming in swimming pools that may or may not be contaminated.”
If you feel nausea or vomiting, then you should avoid getting in any body of water. Dr. Stephens says if your child has diarrhea, you want to head to your doctor. In rare cases, the parasite can be deadly.
“Generally speaking for health people, [no, it is not fatal] but for small children it can be deadly if they get dehydrated, so we need to keep them hydrated,” said Stephens.
Doctor Stephens says it can also be fatal for those with compromised immune systems.
So what can you do to prevent it?
Stephens says you should wash hands with water instead of sanitizer.
“Hand sanitizer is not going to destroy this organism or get rid of it. This is going to be something that you are going to need to wash off with soap and water. The act of rubbing your hands together helps to rid the organism off your hands,” said Stephens.
It is also important to change your child’s diapers more frequently, and if you have any symptoms, don’t jump in any body of water.
Commonly recognized vehicles or mechanisms of transmission include:
- Contact with infected persons (i.e., those in the same household or child care) or infected animals (e.g., young livestock)
- Drinking fecally-contaminated and inadequately treated water
- Ingesting fecally-contaminated recreational water (rivers, lakes, etc.)
- Eating food contaminated by animals or food handlers (rarely documented)
The most common symptom of Cryptosporidiosis is mild to severe watery diarrhea. Other symptoms include:
- Stomach cramps or pain
- Weight loss
Probable cases reported since Jan. 1, 2014:
- Florida: 1,142
- Clay: 11
- Duval: 66
- Nassau: 5
- St. Johns: 31
– Laura Caso, First Coast News. 9/18/14