Have you heard about the new stomach bug sweeping the U.S.? Recently, the media has reported an outbreak of a new stomach bug spreading through the Midwest. To date, there have been hundreds of cases of people affected by this critter, with the highest counts occurring in Iowa followed by Texas. Did you know that since this outbreak started in June, there have been 21 people hospitalized?
Case Count Map: Cyclosporiasis cases notified to CDC, by State
What is cyclospora?
Cyclospora, also known as Cyclospora caytanesis, is a parasite that causes a variety of symptoms including intestinal upset when it is ingested. This parasite is spread through the ingestion of food or water contaminated by feces. The good thing is that it is unlikely that it is spread from person-to-person contact, since the cyclospora take from a few days to a week to mature in the stool to become infectious to another person. Cyclospora is not that common in the U.S. It is normally found in the subtropical and tropical regions of the world.
Has an outbreak happened before?
Yes! Previous outbreaks in the 1990’s showed that imported fresh produce, like berries (specifically raspberries) and basil were affected. Contaminated tap water has also been also linked to cyclospora.
How is cyclospora spread?
There are two ways that the cyclospora comes into the U.S.: imported produce and people traveling outside of the U.S. If the produce is grown in regions of the world where cyclospora is common and there is not good regulatory oversight of manufacturing and processing practices, it is possible for the cyclospora to contaminate imported produce, causing the outbreak that we have now. It is currently unknown about which way the cyclospora is getting into the U.S.
Clinical signs and symptoms of cyclospora infection:
- Diarrhea (which can be watery to explosive)
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Stomach cramping/pain
- Increased gas
- Flu-like symptoms (fever, vomiting, headache, body aches)
How long does the infection last?
- Symptoms start two to seven days after ingesting the contaminated items. If not treated, can last for a month or longer
- Caught early, it can be treated with antibiotics
What Else to Watch Out for this Summer
Besides preventing the spread of cyclospora, there are several other food related recalls that we should keep an eye out for.
- E. coli: At the end of July, there was a recall of 50,000 pounds of ground beef, which was sold by the The National Beef Packing Company. This beef is being recalled due to a possible contamination by E. coli. This bacteria can cause diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration if it is not treated properly. Click here for more information on sources of E. coli. There are several ways that we can prevent the spread of E. coli. Properly storing, preparing, and cooking of meat is the easiest thing for everybody to do. Making sure that the meat is prepared on its own cutting board away from any other food items, stops the spread of this bacteria. Always remember to wash hands and food preparation sites thoroughly with hot water and soap frequently whenever you are handling food.
- Listeria: At the beginning of July, a cheese recall occurred from the Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese Company based out of Wisconsin. The soft cheeses (Petit Frere, Petit Frere with Truffles and Les Freres) were contaminated by L. monocytogenes, also known as listeria. Five people were reported to be affected by this bacteria, leading to all of them being hospitalized. This bacteria initially causes diarrhea, which can lead to muscle aches and fever. If it is caught early, it can be treated with antibiotics. If you do have one of these cheeses at home, it is recommended that you dispose of the product(s). The best way to stop the spread of listeria is to wash the area where the cheese was stored (shelf, drawer), making sure to wash any surface that is used to prepare food items and of course washing hands frequently with soap and hot water.
Prevention is the key!
Currently, there is no vaccination for cyclospora. So the best way to avoid this stomach upsetting parasite is prevention. The best way to do this is to thoroughly wash any fresh produce before eating it, washing the items and surfaces used to prepare food before and after each use, and of course washing hands with soap frequently. Avoiding any pre-prepared fresh produce would be best. If you do enjoy the pre-made salad mixes, make sure to completely wash the contents to remove any possible contaminants before eating the mix. It is not recommended that you use iodine or chlorine products for any disinfecting, since the parasite is not affected by these products. If you believe that you or somebody that you know has been infected by cyclospora or other summer bug, call the IPC at 1-800-222-1222 for additional information and prevention techniques to help your family have a fun filled summer.