Cryptosporidium In Water (What You Need to Know in 2024)

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If you get your drinking water from a surface water source, there’s a possibility that it could contain cryptosporidium.

Cryptosporidium is a protozoan parasite that enters water supplies from the stools of people or animals infected with this parasite.

In this guide, we’ve shared everything you should know about cryptosporidium in your tap water, including what it is, where it comes from, and how to test for it in your water.

๐Ÿ“Œ Key Takeaways:

  • Cryptosporidium is a parasite that causes a waterborne disease called cryptosporidiosis.
  • Cryptosporidiosis isn’t usually a threat to people with healthy immune systems, but people with weakened immune systems may be endangered by this disease.
  • You can test for cryptosporidium in your drinking water with a laboratory testing kit.

โ” What Is Cryptosporidium In Water?

Cryptosporidium is a parasite that causes cryptosporidiosis, a diarrheal waterborne disease. Cryptosporidium is often shortened to “crypto”.

Both humans and animals can be infected by numerous species of cryptosporidium. Because of its tough outer shell, the parasite can survive for long periods of time outside the human body, and may not be killed by chlorine disinfection.

The CDC says that cryptosporidium is the leading cause of waterborne outbreaks in the USA.

The egg-like form of cryptosporidium is called cryptosporidium oocysts. Surface water supplies often contain these oocysts.

Cryptosporidium under a microscope

๐Ÿšฐ How Does Cryptosporidium Get Into Water?

Cryptosporidium gets into water through surface water contamination.

A surface water source, such as a stream, lake, or river, is more prone to cryptosporidium contamination than a groundwater source because it’s exposed to the elements and more vulnerable to direct contamination from sewage discharge.

Runoff from septic systems, farmland, or direct fecal contamination from an infected person or animal may lead to the presence of cryptosporidium oocysts in surface water.

This contaminated water is then treated to make it safe to drink. However, even treated drinking water might contain cryptosporidium oocysts because of their resistance to chlorination (a common water disinfection process).

๐Ÿ”Ž How To Know If Your Water Contains Cryptosporidium

Cryptosporidium is an invisible water contaminant, meaning that it has no taste, smell, or appearance.

That means you can’t detect this parasite in contaminated drinking water. You would likely only find out about cryptosporidium contamination after experiencing the symptoms of cryptosporidiosis.

The best way to know for certain whether your water contains this microbial contaminant is to conduct a laboratory test. We’ve discussed laboratory testing in more detail later in this guide.

It’s possible that your local water utility might not fully remove cryptosporidium from your drinking water supply, since chlorine disinfection alone is considered ineffective.

According to public health officials, low levels of cryptosporidium oocysts shouldn’t affect people with healthy immune systems.

So, check your latest Water Quality Report. If low levels of cryptosporidium oocysts have been detected during testing, this should have been noted on the Report.

Water contains cryptosporidium

๐Ÿšฑ Is Cryptosporidium In Drinking Water Dangerous?

Cryptosporidium in drinking water is considered dangerous because it could make you sick – but the exact danger that this contaminant poses depends on its presence in your drinking water supply.

As we mentioned above, a few cryptosporidium oocysts aren’t thought to be harmful to folks with healthy immune systems. However, an increased number of these organisms could cause people drinking the water to get sick.

Cryptosporidiosis usually occurs between 2 and 10 days after the infected person drinks water contaminated with cryptosporidium. The symptoms of this disease usually last for 1 to 2 weeks after they’re first displayed – but they have been known to come and go for up to 1 month after infection.

The symptoms of cryptosporidiosis include:

  • Watery diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Weight loss
  • Fever

The symptoms vary among infected humans. Some people may experience no symptoms at all.

Cryptosporidiosis is dangerous and potentially life-threatening to only a small percentage of the population. Somebody with a weakened immune system might experience damage to the respiratory tract or digestive tract, and chronic illnesses, as a result of contracting cryptosporidiosis.

๐Ÿ“‰ Is Cryptosporidium In Tap Water Regulated?

Yes, cryptosporidium in tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Under EPA guidance, water utilities must monitor their drinking water supplies for cryptosporidium oocysts and take action to remove these microbial contaminants with a suitable treatment process if they’re detected.

Public health officials are responsible for evaluating public water systems and inspecting water treatment plants to assess their operations and performance. These evaluations help to determine the effectiveness of a treatment process.

If high levels of cryptosporidium are found in treated water and the methods of treatment at the plant are proving ineffective, your water utility might issue a temporary boil water notice. Boiling water for at least 1 minute is a highly effective means of killing most cryptosporidium species.

To stay on the safe side, you may prefer to drink bottled water until the notice is lifted.

boil water advisory

๐Ÿงช How To Test For Cryptosporidium In Tap Water

There are numerous methods of detecting cryptosporidium oocysts that can be used by a water utility.

The most common testing procedure involves filtering water through a filter with 1-micron pores, then removing the oocysts from the filter media and analyzing the sample.

But how can you test for cryptosporidium in your drinking water at home?

There are no at-home DIY test kits for cryptosporidium. This contaminant isn’t as easy to test for as, say, chlorine or lead.

The only way to learn about the presence of cryptosporidium in your water is to pay for a laboratory test.

Laboratory testing for crypto is often very expensive (we’re talking $500+). That’s because of the complexity of testing for this impurity.

However, the testing process is thorough and cuts no corners, and the results are highly accurate and invaluable to those that need them.

The most common crypto laboratory tests are designed to detect both giardia and cryptosporidium in drinking water.

To test for cryptosporidium with a laboratory test, follow these steps:

  1. Order a test and wait for the kit to arrive in the post. This kit will contain everything you need to take a water sample at home.
  2. Collect a water sample from your faucet. For crypto testing, this is quite complex. (For instance, this Tap Score crypto test says that 10 liters of water will be needed, and the sample should be returned on ice.)
  3. Send the sample to the laboratory and wait for your water to be tested.
  4. Receive the test results via email or post (usually within 10-14 days).
Getting tap water tested with tapscore

Do we recommend paying for a laboratory test for crypto? It depends on your situation.

For instance, if you have a private water supply, like a well, and someone in your home has recently contracted crypto infection – and you’ve ruled out all other potential causes of contamination – then a laboratory test may be exactly what you need to confirm that your water is contaminated.

However, if you get your water from a city supplier and you think your water is contaminated, we recommend asking to see recent test results from your supplier instead.

๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿฝโ€โš•๏ธ What To Do If You’re Concerned About Cryptosporidium In Your Water

If you’re concerned about cryptosporidium in your water, there are a few ways to respond, depending on your personal situation:

  • If your water is supplied by a local community water treatment plant, you shouldn’t have to do anything. Your water provider should routinely test for this microorganism and take action when necessary, whether that’s to issue a boil water notice or implement additional treatment processes to make your water safe to drink.
  • If you use private well water, it’s less unlikely (although not impossible) that your water contains cryptosporidium. However, if there’s a fault in your well’s construction or your well is under the influence of surface water, cryptosporidium oocysts may be able to enter your water supply.
  • If you test your water and discover the presence of cryptosporidium, you can boil your water (bring it to a rolling boil for 1 minute) or temporarily switch to bottled water while you consider buying a suitable treatment system. Learn more in this guide on how to eliminate cryptosporidium in tap water.
  • Make sure cryptosporidium in your water is to blame. Drinking water isn’t the only way to spread cryptosporidiosis (although waterborne outbreaks are most common). We’ve shared the other ways you might be exposed to cryptosporidium below.
Springwell blackcomb uv next to a water softener

โš ๏ธ Other Ways You Might Be Exposed To Cryptosporidium

Aside from drinking cryptosporidium in your tap water, there are a few other ways that you might be exposed to this pathogen:

  • By swimming in contaminated recreational water sources (such as swimming pools and lakes)
  • By touching or being in contact with infected animals (such as on a farm)
  • By eating contaminated food
  • By swallowing anything that has come into contact with the stool of an infected person or animal

Crypto is also found in soil and on surfaces that have been contaminated with fecal matter. You can’t catch cryptosporidiosis from an infected person’s blood.

๐Ÿ“‘ Final Word: Removing Cryptosporidium From Water

If you get your water from a private source or you don’t trust your local water utility to keep your water free from cryptosporidium, you might decide to install an at-home water treatment system that removes or kills this protozoan.

A standard water filtration system won’t remove cryptosporidium. However, you can use a filter with 1-micron pores or smaller, which can effectively trap protozoan parasites like crypto.

You could also use a reverse osmosis filter. RO water systems offer a thorough water purification process, using membrane separation, with tiny pores that can remove cryptosporidium.

If in doubt, look for a water filter with an official NSF Standard 53 or Standard 58 certification for cyst reduction or removal, ideally with cryptosporidium listed as a tested contaminant.

  • Jennifer Byrd
    Water Treatment Specialist

    For 20+ years, Jennifer has championed clean water. From navigating operations to leading sales, she's tackled diverse industry challenges. Now, at Redbird Water, she crafts personalized solutions for homes, businesses, and factories. A past Chamber President and industry advocate, Jennifer leverages her expertise in cutting-edge filtration and custom design to transform water concerns into crystal-clear solutions.

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