October 30, 2020

How Do You Know If You Have a Cyclospora Infection?

Every year for the last several years in the United States, there has been a massive cyclospora outbreak that sickens thousands. In fact, last year several cyclospora outbreaks sickened more than 2,400 people. One of those outbreaks that was linked to imported fresh basil sickened more than 240 people across the country and was the number four outbreak for 2019. So how do you know if you have a cyclospora infection?

Cyclosporiasis is the illness caused by this single celled parasite called Cyclospora cayetanensis. People get sick by eating food or drinking water contaminated with the parasite. This infection is not spread person-to-person, since the oocyte needs time, usually one to two weeks, to sporulate and become infectious after it is expelled in feces.

The parasite is endemic in tropical regions around the globe, but it has been found in the United States. Cyclosporiasis outbreaks have been linked to products grown in the United States as well as those imported from Mexico.

Symptoms of a cyclospora infection

Symptoms of a cyclospora infection are very distinct. Most people suffer from explosive and profuse diarrhea that can last for months. Other symptoms, which can also last for months, include abdominal cramps, gas, bloating, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, body aches, and fever. These symptoms can go away and recur without warning for months, so patients often can’t leave the house. And these symptoms can cause hospitalizations, if a person becomes dehydrated.

There is treatment for this illness, which is a sulfa drug. Unfortunately, no effective alternative drugs have been found yet for people who are allergic to sulfa.

Complications

There are some serious complications that can occur with a cyclospora infection. They are Reiter’s syndrome (which causes reactive arthritis), malabsorption, issues with electrolytes, dehydration, and relapsing illness. Anyone who has a chronic illness or a compromised immune system is more susceptible to these complications.

How to Protect Yourself

It’s difficult to protect yourself against this illness without avoiding fresh produce, which no food safety expert recommends. Cyclospora outbreaks have been linked to raspberries, mesclun lettuce, McDonald’s salads, Del Monte vegetable trays, salad mix, snow peas, and cilantro. It’s difficult if not impossible to wash the parasite off these products, and if you are purchasing prepared vegetables or salads from a restaurant, that option isn’t available anyway.

The best thing to do is to keep abreast of recalls that are issued by the FDA and CDC, and announcements of cyclospora outbreaks. Of course, you should also rinse fruits and vegetables before you eat them. And now that you know the symptoms of a cyclospora infection, you can see your doctor, get treatment, and avoid complications.

 

 

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