Summertime Parasites: Parasites in our Foods – an all too Common Ingredient.
As we enjoy the fleeting days of summer, gobbling up the bounty of summertime fruits and vegetables, we may be ingesting more than we bargained for. Parasites, microscopic in size and undetectable to the human eye, are often linked to imported produce such as berries, herbs, lettuce and sweet peas. One of the most common of the parasitic intestinal illnesses is Cyclospora. A parasite most commonly found in tropical or subtropical regions, Cyclospora is not spread from human to human but rather from ingesting contaminated foods or water. Although this one-cell parasite is most predominately associated with imported foods – having made their way into our grocery stores and restaurants – as part of salads, sauces or fruity drinks, outbreaks have been linked to locally grown produce as well. It is important, then, to practice food safety handling in all cases.
Foodborne illnesses affect people to varying degrees. Individuals who have compromised immune systems, not fully developed or weakened immune systems, such as the very young, or elderly, are most at risk of experiencing dangerous symptoms. Symptoms of Cyclosporiasis can include diarrhea, vomiting, loss of weight and appetite, fever and fatigue, amongst others. Symptoms can surface within forty-eight hours or take nearly two weeks to develop. It is important to seek medical care to ensure the correct course of treatment is administered. Generally, antibiotics are recommended, along with rest and hydration.
Although it is important to wash foods before consumption and, in general practice safe food handling, parasitic infections can be trickier to prevent. Washing of foods contaminated with parasites does not always rid the foods of contamination. Microbes, making their way into our systems can range from viruses to bacteria to organisms of different sizes. Plant and animal foods can carry a multitude of parasites and the symptoms will vary depending on the type. There may exist muscle pain, skin lesions, neurological symptoms in addition to abdominal distress and diarrhea, depending on the specific parasite.
As we enjoy the seasonal goodness of fresh, raw produce and indulge in BBQs with seafood, burgers and steaks, it is important to be mindful of food safety. Meats should be cooked to the appropriate temperature, fruits and vegetables washed and prepared separate from meats or other contaminates. And, we should pay attention to public health alerts and warnings about outbreaks and recalls since it is impossible to prevent every foodborne illness, as in the case of parasites. If you suspect you have contracted an illness from a particular food source it is important to alert the provider of the product and your local public health officials. This practice, along with safe food handling, is the best way to enjoy the fruits of the season and while summer is upon us.