Recently, cyclospora infections have risen at an alarming rate among those in the Midwest, east coast and Texas, reaching approximately 400 cases in the US within the past few weeks. With cases of infection being reported throughout Iowa, Texas, Nebraska, Florida, Wisconsin, Illinois, Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio, tracking down the origin of the outbreak is proving difficult at best and impossible at worst for medical professionals and the CDC.
Due to a yet unknown source of origin, whether the regional outbreaks are related or not remains a mystery, but some progress is being made with exploration into potentially contaminated salad greens. Unfortunately the lack of information may mean that we’ll simply have to let this outbreak run its course.
Iowa is among the states hit hardest by the outbreak, with 145 infections currently being reported. Nebraska and Texas report upwards of 60+ cases at this time, while many of the affected states report numbers that are much lower. But with at least 20 people requiring hospitalization so far, there is definite cause for concern.
While it’s still relatively early in the outbreak stages of this illness, the current infection numbers are nothing when compared to a 20-state outbreak in 1996 that spread from the US up through two Canadian provinces. Infecting upwards of 1,465 persons, the outbreak of 1996 was a harsh wake up call for the US and Canada.
What Is Cyclospora? This microscopic one-celled parasite is the cause of some serious stomach and intestinal upsets, that gone untreated can last for up to months at a time.
Directly affecting the small intestine, cyclospora infections can cause intense bouts of diarrhea, explosive bowel movements, loss of appetite, weight loss, debilitating cramps and stomach pain, nausea and high levels of fatigue among other flu-like symptoms including, but not limited to – Headaches, fever, body aches and vomiting – while dehydration is a serious concern for all. While these symptoms can fade over time, infected individuals often experience a relapse of illness and exhaustion.
Cyclospora infection isn’t as rare as some would hope, especially considering the fact that it spreads via food/water contaminated with fecal matter. The reality is that with people all over the world relying on outside and often unknown sources of food (rather than say growing it in their own backyards, gathering it in the wild or trading with friends and fellow survivors), the consumption of contaminated food/water becomes a matter of chance and situational awareness.
Because cyclospora requires anywhere between a few days to a few weeks after being passed in a bowel movement to become infectious, it is unlikely that this parasite will be passed directly from one person to another. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful sharing a latrine with an infected individual or let them prep your meals.
With an incubation period of roughly one week, it can be hard to pinpoint the origin of a cyclospora outbreak, but with enough time and reported cases, sometimes it can be done. Scientists, epidemiologists and doctors are working backwards, connecting the dots from one case to the next in the hopes that an origin of the current outbreak can be found. Unfortunately, while finding the origin of a cyclospora outbreak can help cease the spread of infection, it does nothing to help individuals already suffering from an infection.
Special thanks to Deborah Middleton for alerting the Zombease crew to this current outbreak.