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Cryptosporidiosis Is Not A Bacterial Infection

Posted by Karl Withakay on August 25, 2010

While I drive to and from work each weekday, I listen to the local NPR affiliate, KWMU, a generally excellent source of broadcast news.  During my drive home from work today, I caught a story on an outbreak of a diarrheal illness, crypo in some St. Louis county day care centers.  The report mentioned that crypto is short for cryptosporidiosis and explained that cryptosporidiosis was a bacteriological illness spread through contact with infected feces, usually in swimming pools and day care centers.  The same story was reported on the Post dispatch web site with virtually identical information.  (The story broadcast on KWMU may have even credited the Post Dispatch for the story, but I didn’t catch it.)  The PD story stated:

“The bacterial illness, cryptosporidiosis, is spread through contact with infected feces, most commonly in swimming pools and day care centers.”

The problem with the story as reported by both KWMU and the PD is that cryptosporidiosis is not a bacterial illness, and Blythe Bernhard, the author of the Post Dispatch article, could have learned that with a few seconds of fact checking on the internet.  (See also the CDC’s site if you don’t trust Wikipedia.)  Cryptosporidiosis is instead a parasitic infection caused by a protozoan parasite, Cryptosporidium.

I know this because some years ago I saw an episode of (I believe) Forensics Files regarding an outbreak of cryptosporidiosis in Milwaukee after a rainstorm caused untreated sewage to overflow the sewage treatment system and spill into the same water source a water plant got its municipal water from; an outbreak of  cryptosporidiosis was the result.

As soon as I got home, I rushed to the computer to confirm my knowledge because no mater how sure I am of something, I like to be able to confirm and support my position; I try not to assume that I recall something correctly, even though in this case I was sure cryptosporidiosis was parasitic in nature and not bacteriological.

It’s not a major gaff per se, but neither was it in any way difficult to research either.  Cryptosporidiosis is not bacterial and cannot be treated like a bacterial infection.  In fact, there really is no treatment for cryptosporidiosis other than supportive care (you just have to let your immune system fight it off).  In immunocompromised individuals, it can become a lifelong, chronic condition that can also be fatal.   One would think the reporter would have looked up cryptosporidiosis to get more information on the disease.  Sure it was just a quick, breaking news blurb, but

A. wouldn’t it be good to be sure you have the facts straight BEFORE publishing,

and

B. wouldn’t it be good to have some background info on the disease in case the story gets bigger and you have to revisit it?

As of 7:30PM local time, the story on the PD website has not been updated, which tells me nobody has gone back to check the facts after getting the breaking news published to the web, although someone did post the diarrhea song in the comments section.  :)

UPDATE 8-26-10

As of 9:00AM the next day, the story on the PD website is still unchanged, though the diarrhea song has been deleted from the comments, and someone else posted a comment regarding cryptosporidiosis not being bacterial in nature.  However, the story was repeated on the air on KWMU this morning, this time without any mention of a bacterial nature.  Maybe KWMU actually read my E-Mail.

EDIT II 8-26-10

Apparently the PD website put out a nearly identical replacement article omitting the bacterial infection part, but left the original article in place for some reason.   Maybe he app they use to deploy breaking news stories does not allow edits after publishing.

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