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HPA yet to find reason for spike in cases of holiday illness cryptosporidium

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) is continuing to investigate a spike in cases of the common holiday illness cryptosporidium, which is mainly contracted via contaminated water in swimming pools.

Together with other agencies, the HPA is trying to find the reason why four times as many people were diagnosed with cryptosporidium in the UK in May/June this year, compared with 2011 figures. In May 2011, just 82 people were diagnosed with cryptosporidium in the UK – this year, a total of 327 were diagnosed in the same period, 60 of these in the first week of June.

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Children are usually affected, but more adults have also been diagnosed this year.

Cryptosporidium is commonly found in hotel swimming pools which become contaminated with faeces either from animals or humans. If children use pools wearing dirty nappies, the infection can also be passed on.

The symptoms include watery diarrhoea, stomach cramps, fever, headache and eventual dehydration. It is crucial to drink plenty of water to prevent this, especially if patients are elderly, very young or have an impaired immune system.

There is no treatment for the parasitic infection, which often clears up within a month.

The spike in the number of cases occurred between 11-18 May this year and has continued – no link has been made between a rise in cases and the extra Bank Holidays the UK has enjoyed in 2012, or any increase in holidays taken abroad.

The HPA’s lead investigator Dr Stephen Morton said that, at first, the majority of cases involved adults – but added that since 1 June, more cases had been confirmed in young children in some regions.

“This fits more with the usual pattern, as cryptosporidiosis usually affects children more than adults,” said Dr Morton.

“However, it is too soon to determine if the rise in cases has peaked. We are remaining vigilant to any further cases and continuing to work with NHS partners, local Environmental Health Officers, the Drinking Water Inspectorate and the Food Standards Agency to see if there is a common source of infection,” he added.

“Health protection colleagues in other English regions and in Scotland are also working with us to establish if recent cases in Scotland are linked to the increase in cases in England,” said Dr Morton.

“If our investigations identify a common source, we will issue further health advice to the public as necessary.”

The Drinking Water Inspectorate in the UK has confirmed that no water supplies are under suspicion – most of the cases of cryptosporidium diagnosed are located in the North East, Yorkshire, the West Midlands and the East Midlands, but it is not yet known how many patients might have contracted a cryptosporidium infection on holidays abroad over the recent UK holiday periods.

Dated: 12/06/2012

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