Clark, Champaign counties hit by outbreak linked to parasite, calves

Clark and Champaign County health experts are investigating an outbreak of possibly 23 cases of Cryptosporidiosis in humans that’s been linked to dairy calves purchased as 4-H projects.

Three human cases have been confirmed, nine cases are probable and 11 cases are suspected in both Clark and Champaign counties, Clark County Combined Health District Epidemiologist Anna Jean Petroff said. The disease is unlikely to cause any human fatalities, she said.

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The Clark County district is working together with the Champaign Health District and Ohio State University Extension Office are working together on the investigation.

The parasite has been linked to a group of dairy feeder calves brought into Clark County to sell for fair projects, said Larry Shaffer, Clark County director of environmental health. The majority of the cases are in Clark County, Shaffer said. The people affected are located in the northwest portion of Clark County, he said.

Cryptosporidiosis is an infection with the microscopic parasite, Cryptosporidium, which is found in soil, food, water or surfaces that have been contaminated with feces from infected humans or animals.

All of the calves in Clark County have died, Shaffer said, while some calves in Champaign County are sick but are still alive. It’s unclear how many calves died but it’s estimated to be between seven and 22, he said.

The primary symptom in humans is watery diarrhea, Shaffer said. Other symptoms include stomach cramps or pain and fever. Symptoms will appear about two to 10 days after exposure to the parasite and can last about one to two weeks.

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It also can be easily misdiagnosed as the flu, Shaffer said. People with illnesses must let doctors know they’ve been around livestock recently to help doctors with a diagnosis, he said.

“We’ve reached out to the medical community to make sure they’re aware there’s an outbreak (of Crypto) in Clark County so they can make a better diagnosis,” he said.

People exposed to the parasite can be contagious for several weeks after symptoms disappear. The parasite can be spread person-to-person easily because the method of transmission is fecal-oral, Petroff said.

“If you don’t wash your hands properly after going to the bathroom or after changing a child’s diaper and then you go prepare food, it’s really easy to transmit it to other people,” she said.

People also must watch their hands thoroughly and remove clothes and shoes once returning home after being around livestock, Shaffer said.

READ MORE: Clark County health district tips to avoid getting the flu

The illness is common, Shaffer said, and is typically associated with public water venues, such as pools or water parks.

In 2016, Ohio health officials identified 1,940 people sick with cryptosporidiosis, also known as Crypto, which represented a 386 percent increase from the median number of cases (399) reported from 2012 through 2015, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC also reported 24 Crypto-related outbreaks — or multiple cases in one location — in Ohio in 2016, and at least 10 of those outbreaks were associated with aquatic venues.

To stop the spread of the illness, the health district recommends using a 3-percent hydrogen peroxide solution, Shaffer said. People must scrub possibly contaminated surfaces — such as bathrooms, diaper changing stations or kitchen surface — and soak them for 20 minutes before washing the solution away with clean water, he said. Chlorine beach and other common disinfectants aren’t effective against Crypto, Petroff said.

“3-percent hydrogen peroxide is the only recommended method of cleaning hard surfaces,” she said.


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