What Is Cyclosporiasis? Rare Parasite in Food Sickens at Least 100 people

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Cyclospora, a rare parasite seen here in a stool sample can make people very ill. Photo by Consequentially

Cyclospora, a rare parasite seen here in a stool sample, can make people very ill. Photo by Consequentially

An outbreak of cyclosporiasis, the result of food contaminated by a rare parasite, has sickened at least 100 people in two states: Nebraska and Iowa, reports CBS News. A parasite called cyclospora causes cyslosporasis, which can leave people sick for two months or more.

Cyclosporiasis: What Causes This Illness?

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa now has a total of 71 people who have become sick with cyclosporiasis. This hard-to-find parasite can be living in both contaminated water and food; past outbreaks have been linked to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Although experts are still unsure of the source of this outbreak, as of July 15, 2013, they believe that this outbreak is associated with fresh vegetables.

The Iowa Department of Public Health is interviewing the people who are ill to determine common food exposure.

According to the Mayo Clinic, before 1996, sporadic cases of cyclosporiasis turned up only in people who were traveling to developing countries and in people who had HIV or other illnesses or diseases that would weaken the immune system. However, since 1995 more and more outbreaks have occurred in the United States and Canada; these outbreaks have been linked to fresh basil, lettuce, and imported raspberries.

Cyclosporiasis: Signs and Symptoms

Cyclosporiasis is a intestinal illness that may not produce any signs or symptoms. However, for those who do develop symptoms, they usually begin within two to 11 days of consuming contaminated water or food.

Symptoms include watery diarrhea, frequent and explosive bowel movements, alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, bloating, burping, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, low grade fever, and fatigue.

Cyclosporoasis can cause a sufferer to have diarrhea for a very long time, on average 57 days if left untreated. Dehydration is a complication that can be associated with cyclosporisis, especially in young children, older adults, and those with a compromised immune system. These people may require hospitalization to receive fluids through an IV.

The life cycle of cyclospora. Image by the CDC

The life cycle of cyclospora. Image by the CDC

Parasite Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

Doctors will require a stool specimen to determine whether their patient has cyclosporiasis or not. Treatment for exposure to cyclospora is a combination antibiotic, which uses  trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim, Septra).

However, for people who can’t take sulfa, ciprofloxacin (Cipro) or nitazoxanide (Alinia) may also be helpful, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Preventing cyclosporiasis isn’t easy, as often times you don’t know if the food or water you are drinking has been contaminated. Even treating water with chlorine and iodine will not kill this microscopic parasite.  The best way to know if a food has been contaminated is by staying up to date with the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Alert.

Cyclospora Infection

Although cyclospora can make a person very ill, and can be found in the stools of the sick person, it is unlikely to spread from person to person. The parasite needs days, even weeks to become infectious to another person. Some people who have gotten sick with this outbreak when it first began in mid June are still sick, some have gotten better, and some have had relapses. Keep an eye out for the latest to learn which fruits or vegetables to avoid; this is a parasitic infection you’d be better off avoiding.

Resources:

CBS News. At least 100 sickened by cyclospora parasite tied to contaminated fruits and vegetables. (2013). Accessed July 16, 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cyclospora. (2013). Accessed July 16, 2013.

Mayo Clinic. Cyclospora Infection. (2011). Accessed July 16, 2013.

Iowa Department of Public Health. Iowa Cyclospora Outbreak 2013. (2013). Accessed July 16, 2013.

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© Copyright 2013 Janelle Vaesa, MPH, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Science
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