What You Should Know About Cyclospora During the Current Outbreak

As of July 31, 2013, 372 people in 15 states have been affected by the stomach bug cyclosporiasis. While some of the cases in the Midwest have been linked to a bagged salad mix, the FDA and CDC have not yet determined the original source of the outbreak. The cyclospora parasite can be ingested through eating fruits and vegetables that are contaminated. If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of cyclospora infection, get medical help and contact the FDA to help determine the source of contamination.

Understanding the Cyclospora Parasite

Cyclospora is a one-celled, microscopic parasite that can live in the digestive tracts of humans and can be transmitted from person to person through contaminated food. The oocytes may be transmitted without causing infection to others. However, these oocytes may become active again at a later time. Sporulated oocysts are then ingested by humans, which leads to noticeable symptoms of infection. Symptoms may not appear for days or weeks after transmission of the parasite. Outbreaks of cyclosporiasis once occurred mainly in tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world. Recent outbreaks of cyclospora infection since the 1990s have been associated with imported food that has been infected with the parasite. Raspberries and fresh basil have been implicated in some of these outbreaks. Experts are unsure whether infection is occurring due to the produce itself or from contaminated farm irrigation equipment.

Symptoms of Cyclospora Infection

Cyclospora infection causes severe, watery diarrhea, which is sometimes explosive. Some people may experience bouts of both diarrhea and constipation. Loss of appetite frequently occurs. Bloating, flatulence, stomach cramps and nausea are common. Vomiting may also occur. Some people experience muscle-aches, fever, fatigue, and general flu-like symptoms. If symptoms continue for several weeks, weight loss and general symptoms of dehydration may appear.

Treatment of Cyclosporiasis

A laboratory test can confirm the presence of the parasites in the stool. Generally, a 7- to 10-day course of an antibiotic called Bactrim will help to eliminate the infection. In rare cases, hospitalization to treat dehydration may be necessary. Cipro or Alinia may also be prescribed.

Preventing Infection

Cyclospora can be found on a variety of fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, bleach, iodine, and other disinfectants do not eliminate cyclospora parasites. Soaps and detergents also have no effect. Cooking or freezing are the only methods that will kill the cyclospora parasite.

Pinpointing the source of the cyclospora contamination is not only crucial to containing the outbreak, but also in determining the party liable for jeopardizing public health. Every case offers new clues about the origin of the contamination, so recognize the symptoms and get in touch with the FDA and CDC if you believe you have been exposed.

Additional Resources:

http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/cyclosporiasis/epi.html
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cyclospora/DS01024/DSECTION=prevention
http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertglatter/2013/07/26/cyclospora-outbreak-what-you-need-to-know
http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/07/31/q-tracking-source-cyclospora-outbreak/