Cryptosporidium parvum and Cyclospora cayetanensis: A review of laboratory methods for detection of these waterborne parasites

Walter Quintero-Betancourt, Emily R. Peele, Joan B. Rose

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


Cryptosporidium and Cyclospora are obligate, intracellular, coccidian protozoan parasites that infest the gastrointestinal tract of humans and animals causing severe diarrhea illness. In this paper, we present an overview of the conventional and more novel techniques that are currently available to detect Cryptosporidium and Cyclospora in water. Conventional techniques and new immunological and genetic/molecular methods make it possible to assess the occurrence, prevalence, virulence (to a lesser extent), viability, levels, and sources of waterborne protozoa. Concentration, purification, and detection are the three key steps in all methods that have been approved for routine monitoring of waterborne oocysts. These steps have been optimized to such an extent that low levels of naturally occurring Cryptosporidium oocysts can be efficiently recovered from water. The filtration systems developed in the US and Europe trap oocysts more effectively and are part of the standard methodologies for environmental monitoring of Cryptosporidium oocysts in source and treated water. Purification techniques such as immunomagnetic separation and flow cytometry with fluorescent activated cell sorting impart high capture efficiency and selective separation of oocysts from sample debris. Monoclonal antibodies with higher avidity and specificity to oocysts in water concentrates have significantly improved the detection and enumeration steps. To date, PCR-based detection methods allow us to differentiate the human pathogenic Cryptosporidium parasites from those that do not infect humans, and to track the source of oocyst contamination in the environment. Cell culture techniques are now used to examine oocyst viability. While fewer studies have focused on Cyclospora cayetanensis, the parasite has been successfully detected in drinking water and wastewater using current methods to recover Cryptosporidium oocysts. More research is needed for monitoring of Cyclospora in the environment. Meanwhile, molecular methods (e.g. molecular markers such as intervening transcribed spacer regions), which can identify different genotypes of C. cayetanensis, show good promise for detection of this emerging coccidian parasite in water.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-224
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Microbiological Methods
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Cryptosporidium
  • Cyclospora
  • Detection
  • Environment
  • Waterborne

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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