Canadian researchers have discovered an intestinal parasite known as Cryptosporidium for the first time in a remote community in the Arctic.

The potentially dangerous parasite was found in Nunavik, in Quebec’s far north.

A team from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre made the find after examining an outbreak of intestinal illnesses in 10 Indigenous villages between April 2013 and April 2014.

The researchers were able to identify the parasite as Cryptosporidium hominis, a strain of the protozoa that is normally found in tropical countries.

Cryptosporidium lives in the intestine of mammals, including humans, and is typically spread by drinking water contaminated with feces.

The resulting illness, called Cryptosporidiosis or simply “crypto,” causes diarrhea, cramps and vomiting that can last for weeks and that can be fatal to young children and those with weakened immune systems.

The discovery is worrisome, says the study’s senior author, Dr. Cédric Yansouni, who is associate director of the J.D. MacLean Centre for Tropical Diseases at MUHC. That’s because Cryptosporidium illness could have long-term implications on the health of children in Nunavik as well as in nearby Nunavut.

“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,” he said in a statement.

“In the Nunavik outbreak, children under the age of five were the group most affected by the infection.”

There is a treatment for Cryptosporidiosis that is readily available in countries where Cryptosporidium is common, but it is only available in Canada under a special access program.

Cryptosporidium outbreaks are rare in most of Canada. In 2001, more than 7,000 residents of North Battleford, Sask. became sick when Cryptosporidium entered the city’s water supply during routine maintenance of a chemical filter.

In 1997, there was an outbreak in Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, which straddles the Ontario-Manitoba boundary. The community has been under a boil-water advisory ever since.