The media is abuzz with fear, uncertainty, and doubt about Cyclosporiasis outbreaks around the country, but the facts support reasonable precautions rather than panic. As of July 25th, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been notified of 321 cases of Cyclospora infection; however, the CDC has only confirmed 33 cases in its own labs, and one additional case via long-distance diagnosis. Of the 321 suspected cases of Cyclosporiasis, only 18 individuals have been hospitalized, indicating the generally mild nature of the illness in otherwise healthy individuals.
What exactly is Cyclosporiasis? It is an infection of the body by a single-celled parasite known as Cyclospora cayetanensis, usually due to consuming food or water contaminated with this parasite. As with other parasitic infections and many bacterial and viral infections, symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, and constipation. Although it is possible for otherwise healthy individuals to clear parasitic infections without pharmaceutical interventions, the Mayo Clinic recommends that individuals experiencing persistent or recurring diarrhea visit their doctors in order to determine the cause of their illness and receive appropriate treatment. This is sound advice for individuals experiencing multi-day gastrointestinal symptoms, even when there is no national news of an outbreak. If a doctor suspects Cyclospora as the culprit, he can order laboratory tests of the patient’s stool (feces), which can detect the presence of Cyclospora oocysts (eggs).
Pharmaceutical treatment for confirmed cases of Cyclosporiasis is an antibiotic, usually either trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (brand name Bactrim or Septra), or nitazoxanide (brand name Alinia) or ciprofloxacin (Cipro) for individuals who are allergic to sulfa drugs. Because antibiotics should be used judiciously to prevent resistance and avoid unnecessary side effects, it is important to choose the appropriate antibiotic, and to obtain it only with a doctor’s prescription. People suffering Cyclospora-related diarrhea should avoid taking anti-diarrheal drugs, because they hamper the body’s natural ability to remove the parasite; in other words, the diarrhea is doing valuable work. However, rehydration is important, and water or a beverage such as Pedialyte should be used.
For the nearly 300 million Americans who do not currently have suspected Cyclosporiasis, prevention involves common-sense precautions that are always appropriate. Wash hands and food preparation surfaces, as well as all fresh produce. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Dry freshly washed produce with a clean towel in order to further reduce surface bacteria. Don’t swallow the water in which you swim. Many parasites such as Cyclospora are resistant to chlorine, so individuals concerned about water contamination should use appropriate filters or treatments.