Cryptosporidium patients are contagious for 48 hours after symptoms stop, says doctor

Doctor James O'Donovan said it is 'crucial' to thoroughly wash hands and disinfect clothing and surroundings if someone in your home has contracted cryptosporidium
Doctor James O'Donovan said it is 'crucial' to thoroughly wash hands and disinfect clothing and surroundings if someone in your home has contracted cryptosporidium -Credit:Getty Images/Tetra images RF

People who have contracted cryptosporidium are still infectious for 48 hours after symptoms stop, a medical expert has said. Hundreds of residents across Brixham are thought to be experiencing symptoms of the parasite, including watery diarrhoea, stomach pains and vomiting, after South West Water found 'small traces' of cryptosporidium in the water supply.

Totnes MP Anthony Mangnall said earlier today that the outbreak was caused by a damaged air valve in the Hillhead area, which may have "allowed animal waste or contaminated groundwater to enter the local supply". This is believed to be located in a local reservoir which serves around 40,000 homes. Both animal waste and contaminated water can contain the cryptosporidium parasite, as Doctor James O'Donovan explains.

Doctor O'Donovan, who creates YouTube videos to simply explain medical diagnoses and illnesses, explained that the outbreak in Devon has been chalked up to contaminated water, but added that people are infectious while they have the illness and may spread it for up to two days after symptoms stop.

Read more:

"Cryptosporidiosis is highly infectious so you need to be very clean around your home for at least 48 hours after your symptoms stop," he explained on his YouTube channel. "You're infectious to other people while you are ill and have symptoms."

Symptoms of Cryptosporidium include:

  • Watery diarrhoea

  • Stomach pains

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Low-grade fever

  • Loss of appetite

In turn, these symptoms or a combination of these symptoms may cause weight loss and dehydration. Symptoms of the illness can last two-week or more and may last longer in people with weak immune systems or children under the age of five.

The doctor adds that the patients may feel as thought the illness is gone and they are getting better within the two-week period, but it may return a few days later before full recovery. As symptoms are similar to other stomach illnesses, the only way to determine if you are suffering from cryptosporidium is with a medical test.

Dr O'Donovan says it is "crucial" to wash hands in warm soapy water, which will go a long way to avoid catching the illness. This is particularly true before preparing food as well as after touching raw food, going to the loo, changing a baby's nappy or working with or playing with animals.

A boil water notice remains in place in Brixham and residents living in the area affected by the outbreak are still advised to boil any water and allow it to cool completely before using it for drinking, cooking and brushing your teeth. However, Dr O'Donovan - and South West Water - say it is still okay to wash or bathe in tap water.

SWW said that boiled water can be stored in a covered container in the fridge for up to 24 hours and that tap water can be used for washing, bathing and toilet flushing.

"Now, un-boiled water is still okay to wash your body with and flush your toilet," the doctor said. Therefore, as well as thorough hand-washing and hygiene, you should also:

  • Wash all dirty clothes, bedding and towels on the hottest possible cycle of the washing machine

  • Make sure that everyone has their own towel and that they do not use anybody else’s

  • Clean toilet seats, toilet bowls, flush handles, taps and wash hand basins after use with detergent and hot water, followed by a household disinfectant

  • Not go swimming or take your child swimming while suffering from diarrhoea and for two weeks after the diarrhoea has stopped

  • Not prepare food for others until you have been symptom-free for at least 48 hours

South West Water is handing out bottled water in Brixham while it investigates the cause of the outbreak, which the water company has not yet confirmed. It also announced that people affected by the outbreak will receive £115 in compensation as a "sorry for the stress and worry the situation has caused".

The company has said it is "working around the clock" to restore the water supply back to normal. Laura Flowerdew, South West Water’s chief customer and digital officer, said: “We sincerely apologise for the impact this is having on our customers in the Brixham and Alston areas. Protecting the health of our customers and providing them with a clean, fresh drinking water supply is our number one priority and we will continue to work around the clock to make sure that happens as soon as possible.”