What is it? Cyclosporiasis is an intestinal infection caused by the microscopic Cyclospora cayetanensis parasite. It's spread when people ingest food or beverages that have been contaminated with feces. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it takes several days or even weeks "after being passed in a bowel movement to become infectious for another person." It's an illness that's common in tropical or subtropical regions of the world, but here in the U.S., it's mostly a foodborne illness that's linked to fresh produce.
The symptoms of cyclosporiasis aren't pretty. The parasite infects the small intestine (bowel) commonly causing "watery diarrhea, with frequent, sometimes explosive, bowel movements. Other common symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach cramps/pain, bloating, increased gas, nausea, and fatigue. Vomiting, body aches, headache, fever, and other flu-like symptoms may be noted. Some people who are infected with cyclospora do not have any symptoms."
These symptoms can last days or months. They may go away and come back. To determine if you have cyclosporiasis, your doctor will require stool samples for tests. If the tests are positive, the parasite can be treated with antibiotics.
This commonly isn't an illness found in the U.S., but hundreds of reported cases have occurred here since 2012. CNN reports that health officials have finally determined why: Fresh cilantro imported from Puebla, Mexico, has been carrying the parasite.
The FDA and Mexican regulators inspected 11 farms and packing houses that produce cilantro in the region. Five of them were directly linked to the parasite and several others had "objectionable conditions."
Investigators found human feces and toilet paper in and around growing fields, and restrooms without running water, soap and toilet paper. Plastic crates and tables used to sort and transport cilantro were unwashed. One farm's holding tank used to provide water to employees to wash their hands at the bathrooms tested positive for Cyclospora cayetanensis.
Because of this, the FDA has issued a ban on cilantro grown in the region between April 1 and Aug. 31 of this year that doesn't have "proper growing documents."
If you have the symptoms of cyclosporiasis, see your health care professional. To ensure that you aren't ingesting tainted cilantro from the Puebla region, make sure you know where your cilantro comes from. Depending on where you live, t's easy to get it from a local farmer or to grow your own. Cilantro, also known as coriander, grows quickly and easily, even in shade conditions.
Related on MNN:
- Why does food safety testing matter? Consider this pizza
- Why hating cilantro (and other flavors) may be genetic
- How safe are those leftovers?