Baton Rouge --- The Department of Health completed a disease investigation this week in the Prairieville and Gonzales area in Ascension Parish after several people became ill with severe diarrhea and vomiting. LDH disease specialists determined the illness was caused by cryptosporidium, a parasite that can be transmitted to humans primarily through water but also can be foodborne or spread person-to-person.

LDH recently worked with the city of Gonzales to clean a water attraction at an area park that the disease victims had visited prior to contracting the disease. The park is now clean, but LDH is offering following tips for people who live in the affected area or know someone who contracted cryptosporidium to prevent spreading the disease.

Cryptosporidiosis is a diarrheal illness. The main symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting, often accompanied by fever, abdominal cramps, fatigue, anorexia, and weight loss. The diagnosis of Cryptosporidiosis is confirmed by means of a stool test. Treatment must be prescribed by a physician. However, even without treatment the illness is usually self limiting, lasting on average 10 days. Throughout the illness the cryptosporidium parasites are excreted in the stool of the ill person. These parasites can contaminate people’s hands, diaper changing surfaces, hygiene implements, and water sources.

It is a challenge to disinfect things that are contaminated with the Cryptosporidium parasite because it is somewhat resistant to chlorine. Fortunately, most evidence suggests that as this parasite dries out, it loses its ability to infect people. This means that when cleaning household areas such as bathrooms, it is important to allow all surfaces to dry completely.

The most common way that people get this disease is through swallowing contaminated recreational water. In addition to swallowing contaminated water, some people become ill through person-to-person contact with others who are ill. Infection occurs after ingestion of the Cryptosporidium parasite, causing disease 2-14 days later. In order to reduce the risk of person-to-person spread, strict hand washing practices should be followed. The following guidelines should reduce people’s risk of becoming ill from Cryptosporidiosis:

Practice good hygiene.

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Wash hands after using the toilet and before handling food (especially for persons with diarrhea.)
  • Wash hands after every diaper change and when working with children, even if you are wearing gloves.
  • Avoid swimming if experiencing diarrhea (essential for children in diapers.)

Avoid water that might be contaminated.

  • Avoid swallowing recreational water (e.g., water in lakes, rivers, swimming pools, water parks.)
  • Avoid drinking untreated water from shallow wells, lakes, rivers, springs, ponds and streams.

Avoid food that might be contaminated.

  • Use uncontaminated water to wash all food that is to be eaten raw. 
  • Avoid eating uncooked foods when traveling in disease-endemic areas.

For more information on this subject, please visit the LDH Web site, or the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site,