December 6, 2019

How Cyclospora Parasite Gets on Food, Causes Illness

Cyclospora, a single-celled parasite that can cause months of illness, is considered a rare parasite in the United States, but for folks in some states its becoming a little too familiar. Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee and Texas have had cyclospora outbreaks for two straight summers. Mayland, Montana and Oregon missed last summer’s outbreaks that sickened at least 631 people, but they are getting to know about the little bug this summer as they investigate spikes in reported illnesses. So, how is this rare parasite, normally associated with tropical climates, making its was onto our food an into the headlines?

CyclosporaCyclospora is transmitted when an infected person passes immature oocysts in their stools. If these oocysts make their way onto food and are eaten before they are mature, they do not cause illness. However, if they have a chance to mature while on food and are then ingested, they cause an illness, cyclosporiasis,  that can last up to two months. Readers who have had these infections have described experiencing diarrhea that is so frequent and forceful they have missed days of work.

Contamination can occur through unsanitary conditions at a farm, processing plant or distribution center; or from fields where human waste was used as fertilizer or fields  contaminated water was used for irrigation.

A number of outbreaks have occurred in the U.S. since a 1996 outbreak linked to raspberries imported from Guatemala. Other outbreaks has also been linked to imported produce items including , snow peas, basil, cilantro, mesclun and salad.

If you experience symptoms including watery diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, cramping, bloating, increased gas, nausea, fatigue,vomiting and low-grade fever, see a doctor.

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