Felis ISSN 2398-2950

Cryptosporidium parvum

Synonym(s): C. parvum

Contributor(s): Stephen Barr, Grace Mulcahy




  • Phylum: Apicocomplexa.
  • Suborder: Eimeriina.
  • Family: Cryptosporidiidae.
  • Genus: Cryptosporidium Cryptosporidium spp.

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Clinical Effects



  • Cryptosporidium parvum infects most species of animal, the predilection site being epithelial cells of the posterior small intestine but occasionally also epithelial cells throughout the gastrointestinal tract and in the respiratory tract.
  • It is intracellular, but extracytoplasmic, lying in a parasitophorous vacuole on the brush border of the villi.
  • Oocysts in the environment (especially water sources).


  • Schizonts.
  • Merozoites.
  • Gametocytes.
  • Thin-walled oocysts.
  • Thick-walled oocysts.


  • Only a very few oocysts, experimentally <10, are required to initiate an infection.
  • The highest numbers of oocysts are excreted in the feces of young animals and immunosuppressed humans but adult animals of various species and dogs may be carriers excreting low numbers of oocysts.
  • Infection may be acquired by direct contact with and ingestion of these.
  • Contamination of surface water with oocysts from the above sources and water-borne transmission are important in the epidemiology of infection in man and probably may be important in companion animals.

Direct life cycle

  • Feco-oral transmission of thick-walled oocysts in the feces.


  • Thin-walled oocysts produced in the intestine are able to excyst in the intestine so the sporozoites initiate autoinfection in the same individual.
  • First generation schizogony produces merozoites that can re-initiate first generation schizogony and so autoinfect the same individual.

Pathological effects

  • Protective immunity and decreased susceptibility to infection with age do develop.
  • Immunodeficiency or immaturity of the immune system allows heavy infection to develop, potentially life-threatening in the case of immunodeficiency.
  • In some species, severe infections in the young and immunosuppressed induce pathology.
  • There is loss of microvilli, villous atrophy, villous fusion and crypt hyperplasia with replacement of the epithelium by flattened cells. This occurs particularly in the ileum to result in maldigestion and malabsorption Cryptosporidium parvum stained with modified Ziehl Nielsen  Cryptosporidium parvum stained with Giemsa   Cryptosporidium parvum stained with modified Ziehl-Nielsen using 20x objective .
  • Inflammatory cell infiltration, particularly neutrophils and monocytes, and edema are apparent in the lamina propria.
  • Hypersecretion of fluid means the intestine becomes filled with gas and a yellow, watery fluid.
  • In these severely affected cases, there is profuse watery diarrhea, dehydration, anorexia and weight loss.
  • Deaths result from the dehydration (only likely if immunosuppressed).

Other Host Effects

  • Obligate, intracellular parasite lying within a parasitophorous vacuole.


Control via animal

  • No specific, effective therapy for Cryptosporidium has been identified.
  • The dehydration must be treated and, unless the animal is immunosuppressed, the disease usually is self-limiting and immunity to disease develops, although the animal may remain a carrier.

Control via chemotherapies

  • Spiramycin has been used in man and this drug has been tolerated by dogs experimentally at 50-100 mg/kg for 6 days.

Control via environment

  • Strict hygiene with feces must be recommended to prevent infection, particularly by the immunosuppressed and young children.
  • Periodic water-borne outbreaks of infection means that, during these, water should be boiled for both the pet and human inhabitants.
  • Dry heat will kill the oocysts in the environment.
  • Ammonia-based disinfectants, eg oocide, are the most effective.

Other countermeasures

  • The severe disease produced by C. parvum in immunosuppressed persons means consideration must be given to a recommendation that they do not have a pet or they must be advised as to the dangers of infection and the strict hygiene required.
  • The dilemma is compounded by the poor sensitivity of diagnostic tests when they are applied to carrier animals or humans and oocysts can be excreted for prolonged periods .


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Morgan U M, Sargent K D, Elliot A et al (1998) Cryptosporidium in cats--additional evidence for C. felis. Vet J 156 (2), 159-161 PubMed.
  • Sargent K D, Morgan U M, Elliot A et al (1998) Morphological and genetic characterisation of Cryptosporidium oocysts from domestic cats. Vet Parasitol 77 (4), 221-227 PubMed.
  • Barr F (1997) Cryptosporidiosis. JSAP 38 (7), 319-320 PubMed.
  • Lappin M R, Ungar B, Brown-Hahn B et al (1997) Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay for the detection of Cryptosporidium parvum IgG in the serum of cats. J Parasitol 83 (5), 957-960 PubMed.
  • Lloyd S & Smith J (1997) Pattern of Cryptosporidium parvum oocyst excretion by experimentally infected dogs. Int J Parasitol 27 (7), 799-801 PubMed.
  • Casemore D P (1991) The epidemiology of human cryptosporidiosis and the water route of infection. Water Science and Technology 24 (2), 157-164 IWA Publishing.