An outbreak of an intestinal parasite common in the tropics has been identified for the first time in the Arctic.
Discovered in Nunavik, Quebec, the parasite, Cryptosporidium, could have long-term implications for the health of children in the area, scientists warn.
“We were very surprised to discover this strain of Cryptosporidium in the Artic, which is more typically seen in low-income countries than elsewhere in North America,” says senior author Cédric Yansouni, professor of the infectious diseases division of the medical microbiology department at McGill University.
Cryptosporidium is a microscopic parasite that lives in the intestine of mammals, including humans, and is transmitted by the fecal-oral route from ingestion of contaminated food or water or contact with infected individuals. The parasite causes an illness known as cryptosporidiosis which is characterized by diarrhea, cramps, and vomiting.
The disease can last several weeks and can be fatal for young children and those with weakened immune system, such as people with AIDS, transplant recipients, or patients undergoing cancer treatment.
For the study, published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, researchers examined an outbreak of Cryptosporidium that occurred between April 2013 and April 2014 across 10 villages in Nunavik. In close collaboration with the clinical teams on site, they were able to identify that the strain was Cryptosporidium hominis, which is spread from human to human and usually found in tropical countries.
“We are being particularly vigilant because it is known in low-income countries that repeated Cryptosporidium infections can cause growth delays and difficulty at school in children. In the Nunavik outbreak, children under the age of five were the group most affected by the infection,” Yansouni says.
There is a treatment for cryptosporidiosis in the United States and in other countries where the disease is found, but at present the treatment is only available in Canada under a special access program.
“What we observe in the Arctic, as in any other remote region, reminds us about the limitations of the healthcare system in terms of access to diagnosis facilities,” Yansouni says, who suspects that there are many unreported cases of infection.
Source: McGill University