Outbreak of Parasitic Infection in Boro Park and Williamsburg

Very high magnification micrograph of cryptosporidiosis. (Nephron)

A parasitic infection has been spreading in Boro Park and Williamsburg, and health officials are urging extreme care in hand washing and hygienic practices.

Cryptosporidiosis, sometimes simply called crypto, is a parasitic infection resulting in diarrhea that lasts for 1-2 weeks, and often including stomachache, low-grade fever, and dehydration. Most of those infected will recover on their own; for those with weakened immune systems, doctors may prescribe medication.

The New York City Health Department officials says the outbreak, which came from upstate New York, has reached 43 cases in Boro Park and Williamsburg since the end of July, and that New York City typically sees around 300 cases of crypto per year. The actual number of infected people may be higher, as not all cases are reported.

Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, Deputy Commissioner of Disease Control, says some of the increase may be attributed to more advanced testing that can diagnose the parasite.

The parasite is transmitted person to person, via fecal-to-oral transmission, and may be spread by improper hand-washing following bathroom use; when the infected person touches others or food they eat, the parasite may spread to those people. (Crypto can also be food-borne, but the current outbreak is person-to-person.)

Daskalakis says the past week has seen less activity than previously, and is hopeful that the outbreak is waning, but is still urging that people be vigilant, including proper hand washing with soap and warm water, giving the soap time to lather, and rinsing well, “especially if they have children or they themselves have diarrhea – be very careful about hand hygiene, and not being involved in food preparation.”

Daskalakis says that if someone in Boro Park or Williamsburg has diarrhea, he need not immediately run to the doctor. But he should go to the doctor if there is a high volume of diarrhea, it lasts for more than a couple of days, or it involves low-grade fever, he gets dehydrated, or if others in household have it.

For most people with normal immune systems, doctors will simply direct them to keep hydrated, and possibly take anti-diarrheal medication.

And the Health Department says that people with any sort of diarrhea should never visit pools or recreation centers.

“You should never go to a pool or mikvah – even if it is chlorinated – while you are having diarrhea,” says Daskalakis. “But if you are diagnosed with crypto or any other infectious diarrhea, you should not go to a pool or mikvah for a couple of weeks after the diarrhea ends.”


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