Cryptosporidium parvum oocysts in drinking water have been implicated in outbreaks of diarrheal disease. Current methods for monitoring environmental exposures to C. parvum only account for total number of oocysts without regard for the viability of the parasite. Measurement of oocyst viability, as indicated by an oocyst's ability to excyst, is useful because over time oocysts lose the ability to excyst and become noninfective. Thus, correlating the number of viable oocysts in drinking water with incidence and risk for disease should be more reliable than using the total number of oocysts. We have developed a quantitative assay capable of detecting low numbers of excystable, sporozoite-releasing C. parvum oocysts in turbid water samples. Monoclonal (CP7) and polyclonal antibodies have been developed against a sporozoite antigen released only during excystation or when the oocyst is mechanically disrupted. CP7 is specific for C. parvum and does not react with C. baileyi, C.muris, C. serpentis, Giardia spp., Eimeria spp., or E. nieschulzi. In this assay, oocysts in the test sample are first excysted and then centrifuged. The soluble sporozoite antigen is captured by CP7 attached to a magnetic bead. The captured antigen is then detected by ruthenium-labeled polyclonal antibodies via electrochemiluminescence. The CP7 viability assay can detect as few as 50 viable oocysts in a 1-ml assay sample with a turbidity as high as 200 Nephelometric turbidity units. This sensitive, turbidity-tolerant assay for oocyst viability may permit a better assessment of the disease risk associated with the presence of environmental oocysts.

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