At least 285 cases of intestinal infections caused by cyclospora parasites have been reported since June in eleven states across America. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have yet to pinpoint the source of the outbreak, due to the delay of symptoms in those who have ingested the parasites.
Cyclospora parasites are found in human excrement and can contaminate drinking water and food. Farmers or those handling fresh produce can accidentally transmit the parasites when they are ill and have not thoroughly washed their hands after using the restroom.
Past outbreaks of the parasite have originated from imported fresh fruits and vegetables. Frozen and canned vegetables have never been linked with an outbreak of cyclospora parasites. The Food and Drug Administration recommends washing produce thoroughly with water and drying it with a paper towel before eating.
Symptoms of a cyclosporiasis infection include prolonged diarrhea, which can last up to two months, a loss of appetite, nausea, and fatigue. Those with prolonged diarrhea are at risk for becoming dehydrated. Symptoms of dehydration include a dry mouth, infrequent urination, and dizziness. Eighteen people have been hospitalized due to the illness to-date. WebMD recommends seeing a doctor if experiencing prolonged diarrhea, or diarrhea that comes and goes for a long period of time.
It can take up to two weeks for the symptoms to begin once the parasite is ingested; because the symptoms do not surface immediately and people have trouble remembering which foods they have eaten in weeks past, it has been difficult for the CDC to determine which types of produce might contain the parasites.
The illness has been reported in Iowa, Nebraska, Texas, Wisconsin, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, and Ohio. Thankfully, those infected can be treated with Bactrim, an antibiotic that should help relieve symptoms within seven to ten days.