Crypto

I didn’t really choose Crypto.  I don’t think anyone does.  It just kind of happens to you.  You drink some water, or ingest some food, and then BAM!  It’s all over you.  Or inside you rather, the spore phase quickly burrowing itself in the walls of your small intestine, the honeymoon sweet, where it begins to multiply exponentially.  Soon new spores (oocysts) are produced and released into the intestinal tract in massive quantities, where they are carried out of the body in watery diarrhea.

Thanks Wikipedia! (Image credit: CDC/Alexander J. da Silva, PhD/Melanie Moser (PHIL #3386), 2002.)

No, I didn’t choose Crypto.  It is just so damn super.  It really is a Super Bug.  Crypto is highly resistant to destruction, including chlorination, and can survive for 24 hours under 1000mg/L free chlorine.  It’s kind of insane.  It’s destructive.  It will leave you helpless, bouts of watery diarrhea slowly dehydrating you, preventing the absorbtion of nutrients, you slowly waste away and die of either starvation or dehydration.  Your blood thick like mud.  It generally won’t affect you too much if your healthy.  Maybe put you on the shitter for up to 10 days, but hey, we all need some time for a couple of good books don’t we?

The tricky thing is, it devastates the immuno-suppressed, those with HIV, children with naive immune systems, the elderly, in my case neonatal livestock.  It can destroy them.  The infection can spread beyond your intestines.  Worms borrowing into your body, sporing.  Like in this picture:

It’s a pretty versatile creature.  There are 12 known species of the genus Cryptosporidium, each one affecting different hosts.  Several are zoonotic, they pass from species to species.  The worst so far seems to be Cryptosporidium parvum, a nasty version, considered the most important water-born pathogen in developing countries.  The genome of C. parvum was sequenced in 2004.  It is composed of eight chromosomes ranging from 1.04 to 1.5 Mb, small in size, and contains few transposable elements, which means it has limited ability to switch its DNA sequence around within a single cell.  That’s good.  Otherwise these “jumping jeans” allow organisms to mutate, kind of like cholera can, when it’s advantageous to multiply rapidly and infect on the quick.  You see, these pathogens, bacteria and protozoa, are intelligent.  Not in the sense that they meet in coffee shops or at parties and decide to mutate based on strategic interest, then engage in a game of Twister to jump genes around.  Rather, they have a collective intelligence.  They seem to be able to sense when conditions are right.  It makes no sense for a water-born or fecal-born pathogen to use up a host as quickly as possible with no potential for new colonization.  To kill a host in a vacuum would be suicide.  They are not depressed drug abusing runaways, they are family types.

No, it’s better to multiply slowly, allowing ample time and sufficient shedding of spores increasing the likelihood of colonizing  a new host.  Or, if everyone drinks shit water, and there’s a seemingly endless supply of people, livestock, dogs, etc., why not switch a gene and kill, kill, kill.  An orgy of diarrhea and rebirth.  The Red Light Districts of the Crypto Kingdom….

Red Light District in Uganda (Man collecting stagnant water for drinking,
Uganda © FAO/17287/ J. Holmes: http://www.unesco.org/water/wwap/wwdr2/case_studies/uganda/img/uganda_stagnant_water.jpg)

The places where these orgies occur, the Red Light Districts, can be called hot-spots.  We’ve identified some Crypto hot-spots in Ruaha, and that’s where we’ll begin.  You can find Crypto in shit.  We’ll be sampling a lot of it.  We’ve sampled a lot of it so far.  The tricky thing is, we’ve been sampling adult livestock to date, and have found very few positive cases.  Now we start on the little guys.  The neonates.  The babies.  We start sampling calves, kids, and lambs.  The Masai have complained about calf mortality.  Hopefully it’s not due to the water, not due to Crypto, but if it is, at least it’s treatable.  You can just filter the water.  BioSand filtration can remove up to 99% of the pathogen.  The hard part is getting people to use filtration.  That’s another story….

The symptoms of Crypto can be many.  Here’s an abbreviated list:

  • Dehydration
  • Malnutrition
  • Weight loss
  • Stomach cramps or pain
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Malaise
  • Vomiting

Crypto in a calf intestine and fecal sample.  Source Multilocularis on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9fbb50FWtk

Generally, you’ll never know you have it.  You’ll just have diarrhea.  It’s not like you can see the spores.  They’re small.  You have to take a fecal sample.  You have to have it analyzed in the lab through a process like DFA, direct fluorescent antibody staining.  In the lab, they diagnose Crypto by centrifuging the fecal sample, which serves to concentrate the oocysts.  Then, they put it on a microscope slide, and stain the sample with specially manufactured antibodies that stick to the oocyst.  There’s no real easy simile here, maybe like blood, when it clots on your skin.  They’re specially formulated antibodies that stick to certain substances.  Maybe like the girls in Rock of Love, I can’t think of anyone else who would stick to Brett Michaels.  After the staining of the oocyst, they wash the slide and look at it through a flourescence microscope.  This creates contrast.  The oocysts light up.  Like lights on a Christmas tree.

Stained oocysts courtesy of the US EPA!

We’ll be doing the lab work at the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania. We purchased the microscope, outfitted the lab.  I’ll be teaming up with a Veterinary Medicine student.  They’ll essentially be training me.  It’s a good relationship.  They get to learn a new diagnostic technique, and I get some data.  It’s dynamite.  We’re ready to go.

Like I said, I didn’t choose Crypto, it chose me.  It happens to be there in Ruaha, in the water.  It happens to be in livestock.  There happen to be issues with calf mortality.  Crypto may play a role.  We’ll get some samples, we’ll stain them, we’ll see.  We’ll enter the Red Light Disrict.  We’ll wear lab coats.

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