|Courtesy of the CDC in Atlanta, the life cycle of Cyclospora|
This week a parasite which causes acute gastroenteritis caused an outbreak which has impacted fifteen states. This is an unusual infection and is caused by a single celled coccidian parasite. (Cryptosporidium is a different type of coccidian organism) In the last twelve years there have only been twelve reported cases and last week just one Texas County reported twenty. Iowa, Nebraska, Texas and Connecticut have been hit hard.
Cyclosporiasis can cause nausea, vomiting, a particularly watery diarrhea, fatigue, fever, excessive gas, weight loss, and cramping, all within two to ten days of having ingested the offending organism. Some people have muscle aches also. A very few are ill enough to develop cholecystitis, or a siginificant inflammation of the gallbladder secondary to this disease. A physician can take a sample and test for this microorganism. Ideally, when looking for this organism, several stool samples should be obtained on three different days in order to catch the oocysts. The organism can be treated with certain antibiotics. Sulfasoxazole/Trimethoprim is most frequently ordered, which is sold as Bactrim or Septra, but other antibiotics can sometimes be used for those who are allergic to sulfa drugs. When I was in Russia, I carried Bactrim in case I developed a coccidial infection, as does occasionally happen there, but I was fine. Failure to treat this outbreak correctly can result in diarrhea which can continue for months. The young, the old, and those with other medical issues, can become dehydrated and require hospitalization. A number of people during the recent outbreak have required hospitalization. No one, as yet, has died from it. No exact source for this particular outbreak has been detected, although in outbreaks in the 1990s, foreign raspberries were the culprit.
Human beings become infected by eating cyclospora oocysts. These could easily be found on any fruit, berries, produce, or contaminated water. This infection is more common in tropical nations than it is in the United States. All of this is making me regret the few delicious huge raspberries I ate on the way home from grocery shopping, without washing them last week.
Of course, washing our hands before eating and after using the bathroom can help in preventing transmission of this illness. Washing our fruits and vegetables before eating is also a wise strategy for prevention.
Neither iodine or chlorine can kill cyclospora oocysts in water and so contaminated water can indeed be a source of this illness.
If you or your family develop this illness, please see your physician for early treatment.
Authoritative information on Cyclospora and the illness Cyclosporiasis:
Although rehydration will not cure cyclospora, it is an essential strategy in it's treatment. This is a prior post on rehydration solutions, some of which can be made at home:
The safest treatment course includes seeing your physician and taking an antibiotic (and likely probiotics as well)