What can cover 15 states, 353+ people, and cause 21 hospitalizations in a single month, all the while being too small to even see with the naked eye?
This tiny parasite, made of just a single cell, is wreaking havoc in the Midwest and several other states. Though small, it can cause one heck of a reaction. It’s found in contaminated food or water, then passed on to people when they consume it. It can cause watery diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, weight loss, and loss of appetite. Occasionally it can cause vomiting or low grade fever. According to the CDC, without treatment, symptoms can last more than a month, or go away and return. Severe cases can lead to hospitalization. It typically takes about a week after exposure for symptoms to begin, although it can happen as fast as a day or take as long as 2 weeks in some cases.
Cyclospora infection can be diagnosed by analyzing stool specimens and is treated with antibiotics. Severe cases can cause dehydration that requires IV fluids.
The infection, called cyclosporiasis, hit the Midwest at the end of June. It started in Iowa and is now recorded in 13 other states, as well as NYC. Iowa, Nebraska, and Texas currently have the most reported cases of cyclosporiasis. Smaller numbers of cases have been reported in Florida, Wisconsin, illinois, Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Ohio. The CDC has confirmed 33 of the cases in a lab, although it’s not yet apparent whether they’re all a part of the same outbreak or not. It’s also unknown what the source of the cyclospora is at this point. In cases of other outbreaks, the culprit has been fresh fruit and veggies. In the past, snow peas, raspberries, lettuce, and basil have been to blame.
This doesn’t mean you have to stop eating fresh produce. Standard food safety precautions include washing produce before eating, and washing hands and utensils thoroughly after handling food. The CDC recommends contacting your doctor and/or health department for diarrhea lasting more than 3 days.