HIV and the Church

Written by Pastor Bill Mugford

The Doctor’s words were searingly clear, “You are very sick with Cryptosporidium, and if you are not careful, it could take your life!”

“Crypto-what?” my friend replied.  “Not that!” I lamented.  (I’m a patient advocate who accompanies friends to appointments to assist in any way needed.)

I already knew that “crypto” meant “secret or hidden,” and “crypto” seems nothing but bad when attached to the diagnosis of a disease or infection.  However, I had experienced “capital C, Crypto,” before.

All my friend simply thought was that stomach cramps, steadily worsening, watery diarrhea, dehydration and weight loss might somehow be connected to his frenetic pace during the holidays and travel.  He didn’t have fever, nausea or vomiting, and he definitely wasn’t prepared for anything to do with death.

What he learned, and I was reminded, over the next few minutes is that Cryptosporidium – Crypto, for short - is often a waterborne, microscopic, hard to kill parasite that anyone can get.  It lodges in the small intestine and, in most healthy humans, causes diarrhea and other symptoms (like those mentioned in the previous paragraph) for a few days.  Then, it is relatively quickly cleared with only a slight possibility of recurrence.  However, cryptosporidium can be extremely dangerous to people in special circumstances.

“Crypto” and AIDS

If one has a severely compromised immune system (CD4 T-Cell <180), like my friend who has full-blown AIDS, the diarrheal disease caused by cryptosporidium can become deadly and is not easily treated with antibiotics.  In fact, we were informed that the best treatment for my friend is to stay hydrated and take his antiretroviral medication to help boost his immune system.  Nitazoxanide, a treatment for diarrhea, may also be prescribed, but the CDC reports that its effect in immunosuppressed people is not clear.

The Crypto diagnosis for my friend and me was such an unexpected surprise that additional questions about how the disease might have been caught and what can be done going forward came slowly, incompletely and only after the appointment had ended.  That’s when the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) website became invaluably helpful and worth reading in its entirety, HERE (You can do it in 10-15 minutes).

As people around my friend are not sick, he could not imagine the origin of this nasty little “bug.”  However, on one of the CDC Crypto sub-pages he read,

“Crypto lives in the intestine of infected humans or animals. An infected person or animal sheds Cryptosporidium parasites in the stool. Millions of Crypto parasites can be released in a bowel movement from an infected human or animal. Shedding begins when the symptoms begin and can last for weeks after the symptoms (e.g., diarrhea) stop. You can become infected after accidentally swallowing the parasite. Crypto may be found in soil, food, water, or surfaces that have been contaminated with the feces from infected humans or animals.” 

My friend’s first reaction was (literally), “Crap!”  He continued, “My little dog has had diarrhea, and I’ve been cleaning it up, not taking any special precautions!”

Since he’s not an epidemiologist and the dog has not been tested, my friend cannot say for certain that his loveable pocket-pooch is the unwitting culprit, but he is taking added precautions as he recovers.

EVERYONE Be Healthy AND Get In-the-know About Crypto…

Ironically, cases of Crypto I have encountered occur precisely because people are trying to be healthy by being outdoors, interacting with pets and animals, exercising, staying hydrated and eating lots fresh foods, fruits and vegetables.  Being healthy includes EVERYONE being careful about Crypto.

In over thirty years of working with people living with HIV and AIDS, I have shared a number of challenges my friends have faced.  By recently encountering Crypto again, I was reminded that some of the lessons we have learned over the years are worth repeating for those who may be new to the pandemic.

Typically, we keep our blogs to about 500 words, but I am going to extend this blog a bit more with a teaser from the CDC website to pique your interest, encourage you to research more and be more diligent about Crypto for your friends with AIDS and for you…

“Crypto is not spread by contact with blood.

Crypto can be spread:

            • By putting something in your mouth or accidentally swallowing something

            that has come in contact with the stool of a person or animal infected with


            • By swallowing recreational water contaminated with Crypto. Recreational

            water can be contaminated with sewage or feces from humans or animals.

            • By swallowing water or beverages contaminated by stool from infected humans or animals.

            • By eating uncooked food contaminated with Crypto. All fruits and vegetables you plan to eat raw should be thoroughly washed with uncontaminated water.

            • By touching your mouth with contaminated hands. Hands can become contaminated through a variety of       activities, such as:

                        - touching surfaces (e.g., toys, bathroom fixtures, changing tables, diaper pails) that have been     contaminated by stool from an infected person,

                        - changing diapers,

                        - caring for an infected person, and

                        - handling an infected cow or calf.

Hikers who drink from unfiltered, untreated water sources are at higher risk for Crypto infection.

People with greater exposure to contaminated materials are more at risk for infection, such as:

            • Children who attend day care centers, including diaper-aged children

            • Child care workers

            • Parents of infected children

            • People who take care of other people with cryptosporidiosis

            • International travelers

            • Backpackers, hikers, and campers who drink unfiltered, untreated water

            • People who drink from untreated shallow, unprotected wells

            • People, including swimmers, who swallow water from contaminated sources

            • People who handle infected cattle

            • People exposed to human feces through sexual contact

Contaminated water may include water that has not been boiled or filtered, as well as contaminated recreational water sources. Several community-wide outbreaks of cryptosporidiosis have been linked to drinking municipal water or recreational water contaminated with Cryptosporidium.

Cryptosporidium parasites are found in every region of the United States and throughout the world. Travelers to developing countries may be at greater risk for infection because of poorer water treatment and food sanitation, but cryptosporidiosis occurs worldwide. In the United States, an estimated 748,000 cases of cryptosporidiosis occur each year[1].

Once infected, people with decreased immunity are most at risk for severe disease. The risk of developing severe disease may differ depending on each person's degree of immune suppression.

Minimizing-to-Preventing Crypto…

We can all minimize-to-prevent Crypto by practicing…

            • good food-handling procedures,

            • good hygiene, and…

            • standard precautions. 

Please read more about these HERE

Stay healthy my friends!



• Parts of this blog are a light dramatization of compiled, actual conversations, events and diagnoses.

• This blog is not meant to consult, diagnose, treat or prescribe concerning medical conditions. If you are concerned about your health, professionals should be contacted and consulted.


Scallan E, Hoekstra RM, Angulo FJ, Tauxe RV, Widdowson MA, Roy SL, Jones JL, Griffin PM. Foodborne illness acquired in the United States--major pathogens. Emerg Infect Dis. 2011;17(1):7-15.”


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