A spike in illnesses caused by the parasite Cyclospora in June and July is prompting the Texas Department of State Health Services to ask health care providers to be on guard for the illness, pursue testing, and report cases to their local health department. Within the past month, 68 cases have been reported in the state, and DSHS is working with local health departments to gather information about the illnesses and identify a source.
Cyclosporiasis is an intestinal illness caused by consuming food or water contaminated with the microscopic Cyclospora parasite. The main symptom is watery diarrhea lasting a few days to a few months. Additional symptoms may include loss of appetite, fatigue, weight loss, abdominal cramps, bloating, increased gas, nausea, vomiting and a low fever. Symptoms may come and go multiple times over a period of weeks or months.
People with symptoms that could be related to Cyclospora should contact their health care provider for treatment. A health advisory issued today asks providers to test patients who have diarrhea lasting more than a few days or diarrhea accompanied by severe loss of appetite or fatigue. Health care providers should promptly report cases so that public health can investigate them and attempt to determine the source in order to head off future cases.
Past outbreaks in the U.S. have been associated with consumption of imported fresh produce, including fresh pre-packaged salad mix, raspberries, basil, snow peas, and mesclun greens. Texas has had multiple outbreaks linked to cilantro.
DSHS recommends thoroughly washing all fresh produce, but that may not entirely eliminate the risk because Cyclospora can be very difficult to wash off. Cooking will kill the parasite. Infection is generally not transmitted directly from person-to-person. There were 148 cases of cyclosporiasis in Texas reported last year.