Children infected even just once with a certain type of waterborne parasite are nearly three times as likely to suffer from moderate or severe stunted growth by the age of two than those who are not – regardless of whether their infection made them feel sick, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health-led research suggests.
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The spread of Cryptosporidium can be blamed on a lack of access to clean drinking water and proper toilets. It is resistant to chlorine, which is often used to clean water.
It has been thought that the diarrhea that results from Cryptosporidium infections was causing the dehydration and malnutrition that can lead to stunted growth,” says the study’s leader Poonum Korpe, MD, an assistant scientist in the Department of Epidemiology at the Bloomberg School. “This study suggests that while diarrhea is certainly a problem, infection with the parasite itself – even if there are no diarrheal symptoms – is causing the malnutrition. These children don’t even get sick and their growth is stunted. We think it’s possible that the parasite is damaging the gut at this early age, making absorption of vital nutrients more difficult.”
While the greatest risk to children is in 3rd world countries, there have been sporadic outbreaks in the United States, typically in the summer when a pool is contaminated with the Cryptosporidium parasite.