Health officials are trying to find the source of an outbreak in North Texas of cyclosporiasis. Nearly 50 cases have been reported statewide - most of them in Dallas, Denton, Collin and Tarrant counties. Cyclosporiasis is a foodborne illness that can cause severe diarrhea and other symptoms. Tarrant County Medical Director Dr. Sandra Parker talked about the disease with KERA’s Sam Baker in this edition of Vital Signs.
What is Cyclospora?
Cyclospora cayetanensis is a parasite composed of one cell, too small to be seen without a microscope. This parasite causes an intestinal infection called cyclosporiasis.
How is Cyclospora spread?
Cyclospora is spread by people ingesting something - such as food or water - that was contaminated with feces (stool). Cyclospora needs time (days to weeks) after being passed in a bowel movement to become infectious for another person. Therefore, it is unlikely that Cyclospora is passed directly from one person to another.
Who is at risk for Cyclospora infection?
People living or traveling in tropical or subtropical regions of the world may be at increased risk for infection because cyclosporiasis is endemic (found) in some countries in these zones. In the United States, foodborne outbreaks of cyclosporiasis have been linked to various types of imported fresh produce.
What are the symptoms of Cyclospora infection?
The time between becoming infected and becoming sick is usually about 1 week. Cyclospora infects the small intestine (bowel) and usually causes watery diarrhea, with frequent, sometimes explosive, bowel movements. Other common symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach cramps/pain, bloating, increased gas, nausea, and fatigue. Vomiting, body aches, headache, fever, and other flu-like symptoms may be noted. Some people who are infected with Cyclospora do not have any symptoms.
How long can the symptoms last?
If not treated, the illness may last from a few days to a month or longer. Symptoms may seem to go away and then return one or more times (relapse). It’s common to feel very tired.
What should I do if I think I might be infected with Cyclospora?
See your health care provider.
How is Cyclospora infection diagnosed?
Your health care provider will ask you to submit stool specimens to see if you are infected. You might be asked to submit more than one specimen from different days. Identification of this parasite in stool requires special laboratory tests that are not routinely done. Therefore, if indicated, your health care provider should specifically request testing for Cyclospora. In addition, your health care provider might have your stool checked for other organisms that can cause similar symptoms.
How is Cyclospora infection treated?
The recommended treatment is a combination of two antibiotics, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, also known as Bactrim*, Septra*, or Cotrim*. People who have diarrhea should also rest and drink plenty of fluids.
I am allergic to sulfa drugs; is there another drug I can take?
No highly effective alternative drugs have been identified yet for people with Cyclospora infection who are unable to take sulfa drugs. See your health care provider to discuss potential options.
How is Cyclospora infection prevented?
Avoiding food or water that might have been contaminated with stool may help prevent Cyclospora infection. People who have previously been infected with Cyclospora can become infected again.