Crypto outbreak spreads from La Crosse across Wisconsin

An outbreak of a disease that causes severe diarrhea and abdominal cramping for weeks is being reported in La Crosse County. Health department officials say there have been several confirmed cases of cryptosporidiosis statewide that started in the area.

A few people started having symptoms at the end of March, but the La Crosse County Health Department wasn’t notified until last week. Subsequent cases were linked back to the people present at the originating site of infection.

“Anybody that would be at risk for this particular case would have been contacted by our department,” said Carol Drury, environmental health manager for La Crosse County.

Drury believed the original source has been identified but declined to say what it was. There are a few ways people can contract the parasite, including drinking infected water or coming into contact with sick animals or animal waste.

“You can get it from drinking raw milk and you can get it from human to human contact with feces as well,” Drury said.

That’s of particular concern for school or child care workers.

“We do get notified of anything in the county that’s a contagious disease,” said Karen Wolfe, executive director of the Coulee Children’s Center.

There have been no confirmed cases at center and they were not involved in the outbreak. However, staff members have been informed about taking precautions.

“Then we also tell our families and let them know what’s going on so they can at home take preventive cautions before it does come into the center,” Wolfe said.

Even the strictest food prep, diaper changing and cleaning procedures would have to change if any children had symptoms. Hydrogen peroxide-based cleaners are needed to kill off cryptosporidium.

“If something were to come in our center, we would have to make sure that we switched cleaning solutions,” Wolfe said.

That’s why proper hand washing is so important to prevent the spread of the disease, even if you don’t show symptoms.

“As soon as the kiddos get old enough to learn about hand-washing, that’s part of their daily routine. We teach them to sing happy birthday so they know how long to wash them,” Wolfe said.

The parasite that causes the illness can be shed from the body for a month after the original infection. That’s why the Health Department says even if someone is feeling better they need to keep taking precautions to not infect others.