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About Cryptosporidiosis

Cryptosporidiosis is the disease caused by infection with protozoan parasites called Cryptosporidium. The disease causes production losses in livestock farming and can also be a significant cause of disease and morbidity in humans; especially in the young, elderly or immune-compromised individuals.

The Cryptosporidium group of parasites can infect a wide range of animal species including cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chicken, horses, deer and camelids, through the faecal oral route. Infections tend to be more severe in neonatal animals and infections in adult animals tend to be subclinical. Clinical signs occur 3-7 days after infection and include profuse watery diarrhoea, inappetance, gastrointestinal discomfort, abdominal tension, nausea and a mild fever.

The infective part of the parasite’s life cycle, the oocyst or egg, has a very tough outer shell and can survive very happily in a range of environmental conditions particularly if it is mild and humid. They are therefore very well equipped to survive the UK climate, where they can remain viable for over a year in soils, on pasture and in water.  The oocyst stage of the parasite can also survive many commonly used farm disinfectants and water chlorination treatment, making it difficult for farmers, vets and water suppliers to control or inactivate it.

Watch our short animation on how to ‘Control the Crypto’.

Key points

  • Cryptosporidiosis is the disease caused by infection with the protozoan parasite Cryptosporidium with only one species, Cryptosporidium parvum, causing disease in cattle and generally only in neonatal calves.
  • Clinical signs can range from mild scouring to calf death depending on the parasite burden, susceptibility and health status of the calves.
  • Cryptosporidium transmission to young calves can come from many sources including other calves, the environment, their dams, animal handlers and other animals.
  • Cryptosporidium infection can cause serious problems on some farms and current statistics indicate this parasite is the commonest cause of scour in young calves in the UK.
  • The life cycle of the parasite allows it to multiply rapidly in the host and shed high numbers of infectious oocysts, leading to the rapid spread of the disease within a susceptible group of animals.
  • Accurate diagnosis is crucial as many pathogens can cause scour in calves.
  • Currently there is no vaccine available and treatment options licensed in the UK are limited to halofuginone and paromomycin 140mg/ml oral solution.
  • There are effective management solutions which can significantly reduce the parasite burden on farm and thereby the impact of disease.
  • Clinical cryptosporidisis has been shown to cause significant weight loss in neonatal calves, which they do not catch up on over the first 6 monghts of life, compared to calves on the same farm which did not show any clinical signs.
  • Correct use of disinfectants which have proven efficacy against Cryptosporidium is essential for parasite control in cattle sheds, calving pens and equipment.

Research at Moredun

Current interests and future aims:

  • Re-classification of the zoonotic Cryptosporidium rabbit genotype as a C. cuniculus based on morphology, genetic information and animal infectivity studies.
  • Infectivity models in a variety of hosts for different Cryptosporidium species.
  • Assessment of oocyst survival in different farm waste management systems leading to evidence based advice for the safe disposal of contaminated farm waste.
  • Assessment of oocyst survival in different food and drink products and assessment of risk.
  • Maintaining a C. parvum isolate, which allows the production of C. parvum oocysts for research purposes.
  • Development and application of molecular typing tools to evaluate transmission routes and sources of infection.
  • Assessment of oocyst movement through soils and on pasture to identify risk factors for the spread of Cryptosporidium into water sources and develop a risk model
  • Investigate long-term health implications caused by early infection with Cryptosporidium.
  • Understanding the barriers farmers face in the control of Cryptosporidium and developing ways to overcome these.
  • Investigating the effects of different farm management practises and biosecurity measures on incidence of cryptosporidiosis.
  • Examine the host-pathogen interactions of C. parvum to improve knowledge of the factors relating to development of immunity and resistance.
  • Investigating the role of wildlife in the transmission of Cryptosporidium in catchments with public water supplies and on farm.
  • Testing of disinfectants, heat treatment and UV exposure on survival of oocysts in the environment, food and drink products.
  • Development of a vaccine that will reduce shedding and disease impact in the ruminant host.

Research Funding

Moredun is conducting research on Cryptosporidium parasites within the Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme (2016-2021) looking at developing new diagnostics and genotyping tools. The research also looks at farm transmission routes, parasite epidemiology, host parasite interactions and catchment studies.


CryptoHost: Host factors in determining resistance to cryptosporidiosis in cattle. (BBSRC-ARC)

This project is lead by the Moredun Research Institute and is run in collaboration with The Roslin Institute and BioSS. This project will provide the fullest exploration yet of how cattle resist infection with Cryptosporidium parasites. A detailed account of the host responses involved will provide an important knowledge platform that will enable the development of vaccines to aid disease prevention and the identification of relevant biomarkers that will enable selective breeding programmes to improve resilience. In addition, the development of novel in vitro bovine systems would revolutionise our capability to study host-pathogen interactions with Cryptosporidium minimising the need for use of animal models. Outputs from the project will be of interest to the animal health industry, livestock producers, environmental and public health workers and to academic researchers. The development of effective control strategies will have a significant impact on the sustainable efficiency of animal production, safeguard food security, improve animal health and welfare, reduce waste and environmental contamination and improve public and environmental health.


Aquavalens: Protecting the health of Europeans by improving methods for the detection of pathogens in drinking water and water used in food preparation. (European Union)

This is a large EU project, coordinated by the University of East Anglia involving over 40 academic and industrial partners from 13 European countries.  AQUAVALENS is centred on the concept of developing suitable platforms that harness the advances in new molecular techniques to permit the routine detection of waterborne pathogens and improve the provision of hygienically safe water for drinking and food production that is appropriate for large and small systems throughout Europe. Whilst in recent years there has been considerable developments, especially in molecular technology, very few systems are available that meet the needs of water providers. Consequently rather than developing new technologies, the key focus of Aquavalens is to adopt and, where appropriate, adapt existing technologies to develop these detection systems. Moredun’s role in the project is to develop methods to detect and genotyping Cryptosporidium parvum in water supplies.


AHDB- PhD studentship: Control of cryptosporidiosis in calves

This PhD project investigates: (i) the transmission cycle of the parasite (the role of adult cows and environmental contamination); (ii) identify ways to reduce transmission to vulnerable young calves; (iii) investigate the economic impact of cryptosporidiosis on long term health, weight gain and production efficiency; (iv) investigate if timely colostrum uptake will reduce the risk of clinical cryptosporidiosis. The information gained will be used to develop farm management guidelines and practices that will minimise cryptosporidiosis in beef and dairy calves.


Stirling University/SRUC PhD studentship: A catchment-based approach to determine environmental controls of Cryptosporidium transfer from land to water in collaboration with Scottish Water

This project investigates the environmental dynamics of Cryptosporidium oocysts associated with areas of livestock grazing versus areas of rewilding (which are becoming more common in highland glens). The overall aim is to provide critical advances in quantification and understanding of spatial and temporal controls on Cryptosporidium transfer from land to water in agricultural systems. The student will address the following questions:

  1. How do environmental reservoirs of Cryptosporidium vary in space and time across contrasting catchment systems?
  2. How important are different soil-hydrological pathways in enabling connectivity of Cryptosporidium stores to receiving waters & how do they vary over time & with different land-use?
  3. How can a transferable risk-based framework be developed to improve decision-making in drinking water catchments for better public health protection?

Further Information

Cryptosporidium is a zoonotic parasite meaning that infection can be transmitted between animals and humans. For further information on public health aspects of cryptosporidiosis visit:

Cryptosporidium Reference Unit (England and Wales)

Health Protection Scotland (Scotland)

Vet Record article


Virtual Crypto tour

Take a Google Earth tour around a Scottish hillside, and learn how scientists tracked and studied the parasite at different locations.

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