The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that the investigation of the Fresh Express Bagged Salad Mix Cyclospora Outbreak continues as health officials determine whether other retail stores have been impacted. The Cyclospora outbreak has caused illness in “at least” 206 people (that number is only the “confirmed” cases up to June 28th), many having to seek medical attention because of the severity and persistence of their symptoms – it has forced 23 people to be hospitalized. But what exactly is Cyclospora, how it is transmitted, and what can be done to treat and prevent it?
Cyclospora cayetanensis (C. cayetanensis) is a type of parasite which can only survive and propagate in the human body. The parasite takes its dwelling in the human gut and causes an intestinal illness known as Cyclosporiasis, characterized by severe diarrhea, stomach cramps, bloating and nausea.
Cyclospora is transmitted when an infected person’s feces comes into contact with food or drink, which then can infect others when consumed. Cyclospora can be transmitted through the feces of an infected person even before the appearance of symptoms. Cyclosporiasis has long been linked with the consumption of contaminated fresh fruits and vegetables around the world, including the U.S.
Most people with healthy immune systems who become infected with Cylospora will be able to overcome it without medical attention. However, some people who do not receive treatment, can experience a relapse of the infection one or more times. The standard treatment for Cyclosporiasis is an antibiotic called Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (TMP/SMX), sold under the names Bactrim*, Septra*, and Cotrim*.
Since the parasite has only been found to spread through the feces of ill people, the best prevention for Cyclospora contamination is to teach and implement excellent hygiene practices in farming operations.This includes educating farm workers on proper disposal of toilet paper and hand-washing. Furthermore, farms must ensure that proper sewage and waste disposal systems are provided and in functioning order.