TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - In the 11 years from 1997 to 2008, the Centers for Disease Control reported about 1100 cases of cyclospora infection in the U.S.
But over the past two months, they've seen nearly 400 cases in 15 states, including two in Kansas. That, they says, is an outbreak.
Dr. Jo-Ann Harris, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Topeka's Stormont-Vail HealthCare, calls cyclospora a "tricky" parasite because just a few can cause illness, rather than the tens of thousands of spores it might take with other parasites.
It get into its human hosts through food or water that's contaminated, usually by fecal material. Harris says it's endemic in places like South America and India, where people might pick it up while traveling. However, it can also travel to us via imported produce.
Health officials in Iowa and Nebraska, where the majority of cases in the current cyclospora outbreak are reported, traced it to prepackaged salad. Kansas health officials say the two people in Kansas who contracted it ate in Nebraska.
While the suspect salad is out of the current food supply, Harris says this outbreak is a good reminder to wash all produce, even that which says it's ready to eat. The practice can head off not just cyclospora, but salmonella, e. coli and shigella also can linger on imported produce.
Harris says to wash everything. She says typically the friction of the water will do the trick in eliminating the parasites and bacteria, then let the produce dry.
Harris says the main concern with cyclospora infection is that it can cause chronic diarrhea. People who are immunocompromised are at greatest risk of complications. She says an antibiotic is available if symptoms aren't improving.
Harris says a simple case of diarrhea isn't cause to run to the doctor. However, she says if someone is sicker than they feel they ought to be or it goes on longer than they believe it should, it would be worth a call to the primary care doctor for further direction.
Harris says cyclospora can't be passed directly from person to person, but an infected person can contaminate food, which puts the people who eat it at risk for infection.