Cryptosporidiosis has been reported in various reptile species. This disease appears to be common in wild and captive populations of reptiles, and transmission occurs via the faecal-oral route. Infected reptiles may not show symptoms, but they are sporadic shedders of oocysts (eggs). Clinical signs of Crypto infection include regurgitation and weight loss followed by abnormal enlargement of the gastric mucosal layer.
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Diagnosis of cryptosporidiosis can be challenging. One method of diagnosis is the identification of oocysts in a fecal sample by acid-fast staining. A negative acid-fast stain only indicates that the reptile was not molting at the time of sampling and does not mean that the animal is Crypto-free. Standard practice is to test three times before an animal is assumed to be disease free. Endoscopy, including gastric lavage and biopsy, can also be used to identify this disease.
The most common species of cryptosporidiosis found in reptiles are C. serpentis, C. muris and C. parvum. It is suggested that the C. parvum (mouse-based) occysts found were likely from rodents ingested by the reptiles, rather than from actual Crypto infection. This possibility of C. parvum infection by reptiles can only be fully ruled out by further careful biological and genetic studies.
In March 1999, the Saint Louis Zoo initiated a diagnosis-euthanasia program following the identification of chronic Cryptosporidium in snakes at their facility. In order to monitor the effectiveness of the control measures, samples were periodically taken from the snakes over a period of one year. Immediately after the initiation of the control measure, 5 of 10 and 8 of 17 snake samples tested positive for Crypto in May and June 1999, respectively. Subsequently, only 1 of 45 snake samples taken at five different time periods tested positive for cryptosporidiosis.
There are currently no effective control strategies against Cryptosporidium in reptiles. In one small study, it was shown that snakes with clinical and subclinical Cryptosporidium can be effectively treated (not cured) with hyperimmune bovine colostrum raised against C. parvum. Strict hygiene and quarantine of infected and exposed animals are mandatory to control cryptosporidiosis, however most choose to euthanize infected animals. The best way to prevent the spread of Crypto is to euthanize infected reptiles.
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Crypto oocysts are neutralized only by exposure to moist heat between 113°F and 140°F for 5 to 9 minutes and disinfection with ammonia (5%) or formal saline (10%) for 18 hours. Ineffective disinfectants included idophores (1%-4%), cresylic acid (2.5% and 5%), sodium hypochlorite (3%), benzalkonium chloride (5% and 10%), and sodium hydroxide (0.02 m ). Everything that could potentially be in contact with the infected reptile should be thoroughly cleaned with an ammonia solution and left to dry for at least 3 days.