Public health officials in Ireland have issued a warning following a large increase in cryptosporidium infections in the past month.

The Health Service Executive-Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) said the rise in the parasitic infections during the past few weeks is mostly affecting children.

Since the beginning of March, the number of cryptosporidiosis patients has more than doubled compared to the average, especially in small children aged 1 to 4 years old.

Three small outbreaks affecting seven people have been reported in recent weeks with animal contact and person-to-person contact listed as transmission routes.

HPSC data shows there have been 428 reports of cryptosporidiosis up to mid-April this year compared to 148 in the same period in 2020.

Mainly children affected
In the past week, 71 cases have been reported with 23 patients aged 0-4 years old, 22 aged 5-9 years old and 11 aged 10-14 years old.

Dr. Paul McKeown, HPSC specialist in public health medicine, said: “When children spend time outdoors and in particular on farms, they are more likely to pick up this bug and it is important they wash their hands regularly with soap under warm running water.

“Cryptosporidiosis is spread when the bug passes from the person or animal in the stools or manure, and anything contaminated by the stools or manure such as hands, touch surfaces, handles, food, water and outdoor surfaces can lead to a person becoming infected,” he said.

HPSC advice to parents on preventing cryptosporidiosis included washing hands before eating or preparing food and after using the toilet, being outside on a farm or touching pets, livestock and other animals.

The agency added alcohol hand gel will not kill the parasite but soap and warm water will.

Raw, or unpasteurized, milk can be contaminated with harmful infectious diseases including cryptosporidiosis with young children and pregnant women most at risk.

Other infection trends
HPSC data also shows a large increase in Campylobacter infections up to mid-April 2021 with 730 compared to 483 in the same period this past year. Shiga toxin producing E. coli (STEC) infection has also gone up to 170 so far this year compared with 107 in 2020.

Salmonellosis is down from 62 patients in 2020 to 29 so far this year and there have been only 17 norovirus reports versus 482 for the same period in 2020.

Symptoms of cryptosporidiosis generally begin about a week after swallowing the bug, but can start after only a couple of days. They usually last about one week but this can be longer. The most common symptom is watery diarrhea. Others include stomach cramps or pain, a temperature, nausea and vomiting.

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