A new study could reduce the risks the Cryptosporidium parasite poses to expatriate health insurance customers.
Scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have identified significant genetic variations between two different types of this pathogen.
The research published in the journal Evolutionary Adaptations, is a significant step in the development of a new gold-standard test that can ascertain whether or not the waterborne parasite is Cryptosporidium hominis – which can be spread between humans – or Cryptosporidium parvum, which people typically contract from livestock.
In the developing world, being infected with this organism can pose serious health risks to people with untreated AIDS or children suffering from malnourishment.
However, in other nations such as the UK, Cryptosporidium is responsible for around two per cent of all cases of diarrhoea, with a large proportion of people afflicted by it at some point in their lives.
Symptoms of infection include watery stools, vomiting, nausea and stomach pains and while these can last for as long as a month, healthy sufferers typically make a complete recovery.
While there are no specific treatments to cure infection, it is important for sufferers to drink plenty of fluids, with the immune system typically fighting the pathogen.
International healthcare professionals around the world come across this parasite, which can be originate in nurseries, open farms, in swimming pools and when contaminated vegetables are consumed, with both hominis and parvum strains causing similar ailments.
"Being able to discriminate quickly between the two species means it is easier to spot an outbreak as it develops, trace the original source and take appropriate urgent action to prevent further spread," lead author Dr Kevin Tyler of Norwich Medical School at UEA declared.
He stated the findings of his research team are an "important advance" in the development of new, reliable and simple tests for determining which strain of Cryptosporidium an individual is afflicted with.
This can help healthcare professionals to discover if a case is part of a wider outbreak, as well as find out if a strain is local or exotic, the specialist added.
Furthermore, it will help authorities in tracing where an outbreak originated from to a specific farm, recreational area or water supply, he noted.