What are the symptoms of cyclospora?
The parasite infects the small bowel causing:
- watery and sometimes explosive diarrhea
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- stomach cramps
- muscle aches
- low grade fever
Some people can be infected and have no symptoms. The incubation period is about 7 days. Symptoms usually last a few days, but may come and go away several times. Cyclospora is diagnosed by testing several stool specimens.
People with weakened immune systems, young children, and older adults are at higher risk of developing complications.
How is cyclospora spread?
Cyclospora is spread by people ingesting food or water contaminated with infected feces. When an infected person passes cyclospora in their stool, it takes days or weeks before it becomes infectious. Because of this time lapse, person-to-person transmission is unlikely. It is not known whether animals can be infected and pass the parasite to humans.
Cyclospora infection was previously associated with people who lived in, or traveled to, developing countries. Now that so many foods are imported, everyone can be at risk. Because the parasite is not infective immediately, it is hard to determine where a person might have been exposed. Outbreaks have been traced to consuming imported strawberries and raspberries.
How is cyclospora treated?
Antibiotics are typically used to treat cyclospora. It might take a few weeks for normal bowel habits to return, but most people recover fully.
An important step to recovery is avoiding dehydration. Drink plenty of fluids and be aware of signs of dehydration.
Signs of dehydration include:
- dry lips and mouth
- dark coloured urine with a foul smell
- lack of energy
- flushed skin
- increased heart rate
How is cyclospora prevented?
Fruits, including berries, and vegetables should be thoroughly washed and, if possible, peeled before eating.
Thorough hand washing is the best prevention. Make sure you wash your hands properly after using the toilet, handling diapers, pets, or livestock and before preparing foods.
Avoid drinking water directly from rivers, lakes and creeks. When traveling, ensure the water is from a “safe” source. Water should be boiled for at least 5 minutes if you are unsure of the source, or drink bottled water. Remember that ice cubes made from contaminated water may also carry the parasite.