A surge in reports of Cyclospora infections has prompted the Texas Department of State Health Services to issue a health advisory and launch an investigation. There have been 54 cases of the parasitic illness so far this year, including 42 just in the last week.
Cyclosporiasis is an illness that affects the intestines. It is caused by drinking water or eating food contaminated with the parasite. Symptoms include watery diarrhea that can last a few months, loss of appetite, fatigue weight loss, abdominal cramps, bloating, increased gas, nausea, vomiting, and a low fever. Profuse diarrhea can last for months and can relapse.
Public health officials recommend that people thoroughly wash fresh produce before eating it. Fresh produce has been the carrier of the parasite in the past, but there is no firm indication that this outbreak is linked to produce. Last year, Texas had 200 cases of cyclosporiasis, some of which were associated with cilantro imported from the Puebla Region in Mexico.
Doctors should test patients for the parasite who have symptoms consistent with this illness, including diarrheal illness lasting more than a few days, or diarrhea accompaniment by severe anorexia or fatigue. Three negative stool specimens are necessary to exclude the diagnosis.
The symptoms of cyclosporiasis usually begin 2 to 14 days after ingestion of the oocysts. The oocysts must grow and develop into the infectious stage before they can infect another person, which is why person-to-person contact of this disease is rare.
Foods linked to this type of outbreak in the past included cilantro, pre-packaged salad mix, raspberries, basil, snow peas, and mesclun lettuce. Cyclospora can be difficult to wash off produce. Only thorough cooking will kill the parasite.