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DPDx is an education resource designed for health professionals and laboratory scientists. For an overview including prevention and control visit www.cdc.gov/parasites/crypto.

Cryptosporidiosis

[Cryptosporidium spp.]

Cryptosporidium sp. oocysts stained with modified acid-fast.

Cryptosporidium sp. oocysts stained with modified acid-fast.


Cryptosporidium sp. oocysts stained with safranin.

Cryptosporidium sp. oocysts stained with safranin.


G. duodenalis trophozoites stained with trichrome.

Cryptosporidium sp. oocysts labeled with immunofluorescent antibodies. Image contributed by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Causal Agents

Many species of Cryptosporidium exist that infect humans and a wide range of animals. Although Cryptosporidium parvum and Cryptosporidium hominis (formerly known as C. parvum anthroponotic genotype or genotype 1) are the most prevalent species causing disease in humans, infections by C. felis, C. meleagridis, C. canis, and C. muris have also been reported.

Life Cycle:

Life cycle of Cryptosporidium.

Sporulated oocysts, containing 4 sporozoites, are excreted by the infected host through feces and possibly other routes such as respiratory secretions The number 1. Transmission of Cryptosporidium parvum and C. hominis occurs mainly through contact with contaminated water (e.g., drinking or recreational water). Occasionally food sources, such as chicken salad, may serve as vehicles for transmission. Many outbreaks in the United States have occurred in waterparks, community swimming pools, and day care centers. Zoonotic and anthroponotic transmission of C. parvum and anthroponotic transmission of C. hominis occur through exposure to infected animals or exposure to water contaminated by feces of infected animals The number 2. Following ingestion (and possibly inhalation) by a suitable host The number 3, excystation The letter A occurs. The sporozoites are released and parasitize epithelial cells (The letter B, The letter C) of the gastrointestinal tract or other tissues such as the respiratory tract. In these cells, the parasites undergo asexual multiplication (schizogony or merogony) (The letter D, The letter E, The letter F) and then sexual multiplication (gametogony) producing microgamonts (male) The letter G and macrogamonts (female) The letter H. Upon fertilization of the macrogamonts by the microgametes (The letter I), oocysts (The letter J, The letter K) develop that sporulate in the infected host. Two different types of oocysts are produced, the thick-walled, which is commonly excreted from the host The letter J, and the thin-walled oocyst The letter K, which is primarily involved in autoinfection. Oocysts are infective upon excretion, thus permitting direct and immediate fecal-oral transmission.

Note that oocysts of Cyclospora cayetanensis, another important coccidian parasite, are unsporulated at the time of excretion and do not become infective until sporulation is completed. Refer to the life cycle of Cyclospora cayentanensis for further details.

Geographic Distribution:

Worldwide. Outbreaks of cryptosporidiosis have been reported in several countries, the most remarkable being a waterborne outbreak in Milwaukee (Wisconsin) in 1993, that affected more than 400,000 people.

Clinical Presentation

Infection with Cryptosporidium sp. results in a wide range of manifestations, from asymptomatic infections to severe, life-threatening illness; incubation period is an average of 7 days (but can range from 2 to 10 days). Watery diarrhea is the most frequent symptom, and can be accompanied by dehydration, weight loss, abdominal pain, fever, nausea and vomiting. In immunocompetent persons, symptoms are usually short lived (1 to 2 weeks); they can be chronic and more severe in immunocompromised patients, especially those with CD4 counts < 200/┬Ál. While the small intestine is the site most commonly affected, symptomatic Cryptosporidium infections have also been found in other organs including other digestive tract organs, the lungs, and possibly conjunctiva.

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  • Page last reviewed November 29, 2013
  • Page last updated November 29, 2013
  • Content source: Global Health - Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria
  • Notice: Linking to a non-federal site does not constitute an endorsement by HHS, CDC or any of its employees of the sponsors or the information and products presented on the site.
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