Diagnosis

You may undergo the following tests to diagnose cryptosporidium infection:

  • Acid-staining test. The simplest way to diagnose cryptosporidium infection is a method called an acid-staining test, which identifies cryptosporidium under a microscope. To obtain cells for the analysis, your doctor might ask for a stool sample, or in more extreme cases, take a tissue sample (biopsy) from your intestine for the test.
  • Stool culture. Your doctor might also order a standard stool culture. Although this test cannot detect the presence of cryptosporidium, it may help rule out other bacterial pathogens.
  • Other tests. Once it's clear that your infection is caused by cryptosporidium parasites, you may need further testing to check for development of serious complications. For example, checking liver and gallbladder function may determine whether the infection has spread. If you have both AIDS and cryptosporidiosis, a T-cell count — which measures the level of a certain white blood cell that's part of your immune system — can help predict the duration of the cryptosporidiosis. A T-cell count under 100 cells per microliter means you're more likely to have complications.

Treatment

There's no commonly advised specific treatment for cryptosporidiosis, and recovery usually depends on the health of your immune system. Most healthy people recover within two weeks without medical attention.

If you have a compromised immune system, the illness can last and lead to significant malnutrition and wasting. The goal of treatment is to alleviate symptoms and improve your immune response. Cryptosporidiosis treatment options include:

  • Anti-parasitic drugs. Medications, such as nitazoxanide (Alinia), can help alleviate diarrhea by attacking the metabolic processes of the cryptosporidium organisms. Azithromycin (Zithromax) may be given along with one of these medications in people with compromised immune systems.
  • Anti-motility agents. These medications slow down the movements of your intestines and increase fluid absorption to relieve diarrhea and restore normal stools. Anti-motility drugs include loperamide and its derivatives (Imodium A-D, others). Talk with your doctor before taking any of these medications.
  • Fluid replacement. You'll need either oral or intravenous replacement of fluids and electrolytes — minerals, such as sodium, potassium and calcium, that maintain the balance of fluids in your body — lost to persistent diarrhea. These precautions will help keep your body hydrated and functioning properly.
  • Antiretroviral therapies. If you have HIV/AIDS, highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) can reduce the viral load in your body and boost your immune response. Restoring your immune system to a certain level may completely resolve symptoms of cryptosporidiosis.

Preparing for your appointment

You're likely to start by seeing your primary care physician. However, in some cases, he or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in infectious diseases or a doctor who specializes in disorders of the gastrointestinal tract (gastroenterologist).

Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.

What you can do

  • Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
  • Write down key personal information, including any recent travel, especially to other countries or to large recreational swimming areas or water parks.
  • Make a list of all medications, vitamins and supplements you're taking.
  • Write down questions to ask your doctor.

Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. For cryptosporidiosis, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:

  • What's the most likely cause of my symptoms?
  • Are there other possible causes?
  • What kinds of tests do I need, if any?
  • What treatments are available and which do you recommend?
  • Are there any dietary restrictions that I need to follow?
  • Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take home with me? What websites do you recommend visiting?

In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over any points you want to spend more time on. Your doctor may ask:

  • When did you begin experiencing symptoms?
  • How severe are your symptoms?
  • Does anything seem to improve your symptoms?
  • Does anything make your symptoms worse?
  • Have you been swimming recently?
  • Have you traveled out of the country recently?

What you can do in the meantime

While you're waiting to see your doctor, make sure to stay well-hydrated.