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Queenslanders on alert as heavy rains bring spike in parasitic disease

Health authorities have warned Queenslanders after a “rapid rise” in a parasitic disease. Typically, about 500 cases of cryptosporidiosis are reported to Queensland Health each year. This year, more than 700 cases were reported in January alone.

Cryptosporidiosis is a gastrointestinal disease caused by a microscopic parasite, and is a common cause of acute diarrhoea in young children.

Since the start of 2024, more than 823 cryptosporidiosis cases have been reported in Queensland.

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This is 13 times higher than the 56 cases reported in January last year, and surpasses the annual totals for both 2021 and 2022.

The majority of cases were recorded in metropolitan areas. West Moreton, Darling Downs, Central Queensland and Townsville also recorded an increase in case numbers.

Experts are telling Queenslanders not to enter waters after heavy rains. Credit: 7NEWS

The rise in cases is not unique to Queensland, with New South Wales and Victoria also reporting similar increases recently.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr John Gerrard said parasites were usually transferred through contaminated water or food, or through contact with infected individuals or animals.

“Drinking or accidentally swallowing water contaminated with cryptosporidiosis parasites is a common mode of transmission,” Gerrard said.

“This can occur in various settings, including swimming pools, water parks, and other recreational water facilities where water may be contaminated with faecal matter.”

Gerrard said the most common symptoms include diarrhoea, especially in young children, as well as nausea, vomiting, fever, headache, and loss of appetite.

Avoid swimming after heavy rain

Authorities are urging Queenslanders to prioritise good hygiene habits and not use swimming pools, water parks, and other recreational water facilities for two weeks after experiencing symptoms.

“It’s important to wash hands thoroughly after going to the toilet, changing nappies, and after cleaning up animal faeces to minimise transmission of disease,” Gerrard said.

“Children with diarrhoea should not return to childcare or school until diarrhoea has ceased for 24 hours,” he said.

The parasite can also be found in animals including cattle, sheep, dogs and cats.

Gerrard said people can also minimise risk by washing fruit and vegetables before eating them, boiling any untreated water and then cooling it before drinking, and avoiding swimming in rivers, creeks or dams within a week after heavy rain.

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