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Yet another Cyclospora cayetanensis outbreak is under investigation by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most recent posted on July 26, 2023 with 39 cases so far. Are these outbreaks potentially related? If not, why is there a sudden uptick in Cyclospora illnesses? Is this something that you should be worried about?
First, let’s dive into what the CDC deems a foodborne outbreak and then take a look at the active Cyclospora outbreaks the CDC is currently investigating.
What is Considered an Outbreak?
The CDC has strict definitions of what is considered a foodborne disease outbreak. This is generally the minimum requirement to prompt an investigation.
“A foodborne disease outbreak is defined as an incident in which two or more persons experience a similar illness resulting from the ingestion of a common food.”
This sometimes excludes family members who shared a meal at a particular restaurant or from a home prepared meal; though not always. This criterion captures potential illnesses from people who happened to consume the same type of contaminated food from the same place – indicating a trend rather than an unfortunate single item event.
Foodborne illness serious enough to warrant medical intervention is often the first clue that an outbreak may be in progress. Unfortunately, most normally healthy individuals recover on their own without medical attention, so their sample and data are not included in the investigation. Most accounts of foodborne illness go unreported, making an outbreak investigation slow to start.
What You Need to Know About the Current Cyclospora Outbreaks
While this latest outbreak is not the first Cyclospora cayetanensis outbreak this year, it does come after a several occurring within 2 months of each other.
First Cyclospora Outbreak Linked to Broccoli
The oldest this year was first reported on May 24, 2023 where 20 cases were linked to Cyclospora contaminated broccoli. That outbreak investigation is now closed. This often happens when the source food is no longer available for purchase and is well beyond shelf life.
An outbreak investigation may close without prompting a recall if a food source cannot be identified. No confirmed source means no recall.
Second Cyclospora Outbreak Currently Under “Onsite Investigation”
The second Cyclospora outbreak reported this year was first reported on June 14, 2023. So far 68 cases have been linked. The investigation is at the “onsite investigation” stage, but no particular food product has been indicated. An “onsite investigation,” means that “a review of operational processes and samples are collected from food products or the environments where the food was grown, processed, transported, or stored” is taking place.
This is an indication that the investigation has turned up some probable sources, but not enough information is available to make an announcement.
Third Cyclospora Outbreak Traceback Initiated
The third Cyclospora outbreak was reported on July 6, 2023. So far 121 cases have been associated with this outbreak. Traceback investigation has been initiated and samples have been collected. This investigation has not moved to the next stay “onsite investigation.” This investigation is a few stages away from a linked food/recall.
Fourth Cyclospora Outbreak Traceback Initiated
The most recent Cyclospora outbreak was reported on July 26, 2023. So far 39 cases have been linked to this outbreak. This outbreak is also still in the traceback and sampling stage and a few stages away from a linked food/recall.
What You Need to Know About Cyclospora
So, what exactly is Cyclospora? Cyclospora cayetanensis can be a foodborne pathogen. Unlike other foodborne bugs, this one is not bacteria. It is a parasite.
It is invisible to the naked eye. So small that it can only be viewed under a microscope. People become sick when they eat food or drink water that is contaminated with those microscopic bugs.
More Common in Tropical or Subtropical Regions
This parasite is more common in tropical or subtropical regions, where water sources may be contaminated. As a result, people who live or travel in countries where this infection is more common may be at an increased risk for infection.
But this parasite is not limited to the tropics. It can find its way into food sources in other parts of the world.
Not Transmitted from Person to Person
Fortunately, this parasite is not contagious. Exposure generally occurs when infected feces contaminate food or water that is consumed. The reason for this is the life cycle of the parasite. It can take anywhere from days to weeks after being passed through the body to become infectious to another person.
People often start to feel sick about a week after exposure. The parasite infects the small intestine, also known as the bowel, resulting in watery diarrhea. A key indicator for this infection is frequent, “sometimes explosive,” bowel movements.
Other common symptoms include:
It is possible for some people who are infected with Cyclospora to show no symptoms at all.
If not treated with appropriate medication, symptoms may resolve on their own as soon as a few days to over a month after they appear. In some cases, symptoms may relapse a few times before returning to normal. Most people with a healthy immune system recover without medical intervention. Those with a weakened immune system or are in poor health are at higher risk of severe or prolonged illness.
A medication called “Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (TMP/SMX)” sold under the names “Bactrim, Septra, and Cotrim” are the usual therapy for Cyclospora infection.
Common Foods Associated with Cyclospora Outbreaks
These are not the only Cyclospora outbreaks that have occurred in the United States. Several foods have been linked to Cyclospora outbreaks in the past.
Unfortunately, there is not a lot that can be done to prevent becoming infected with Cyclospora parasites. Experts still don’t have a grasp on exactly how food becomes infected with the Cyclospora parasite.
According to the CDC, ”people should be aware that rinsing or washing food is not likely to remove it.” Available data even shows that Cyclospora may even be resistant to common chemical disinfection methods. Even those as generally effective as chlorine.
The best you can do is wash hands, sanitize utensils and surfaces after handling food, and keep refrigerators clean.
What to Do If You Have Become Infected with Cyclospora
If you find yourself sick from a foodborne illness, particularly one associated with an outbreak like the current Cyclospora outbreaks, there are a few things that you can do to help traceback investigation and put yourself on the path of recovery.
Seek Medical Attention
While most normally healthy individuals can recover without medical intervention, certain illnesses or symptoms may require medical attention to recover or recover more quickly. Always seek medical attention if your symptoms are severe. This may help prevent any long-term adverse health consequences.
Seeking medical attention to properly diagnose your illness also provides data that can be uploaded to the food poisoning database. If your illness is linked to an outbreak, your interview information could help investigators narrow down a source. Once a source is identified, a recall can be initiated. Recalls help prevent additional illnesses.
Your illness may not be life-threatening, but certain groups of people may not be so lucky. Reporting your foodborne illness can save lives.
Make a List
If you discover you are sick with a foodborne illness, grab pen and paper, or you phone’s notebook app and start thinking. What foods and drinks as well as where you ate them or purchased them have you consumed in the week or so before becoming ill.
Make this list as early in the process as possible. Memories fade, particularly when we are under the weather. The earlier you make the list, the more complete it will be and you will have it ready when investigators ask you for it during the traceback process.
Reach Out to an Experienced Food Poisoning Lawyer
We put a lot of trust in the people who manufacture and prepare our food. When they let us down and people become sick, it is a violation of that trust. Not to mention the burden of being sick with a preventable illness.
An experienced food poisoning lawyer can help you through that process. The Lange Law Firm, PLLC has successfully helped people struggling with the aftermath of foodborne illness. Reach out for a free consultation to get help and answers from people who have helped so many before. Call (833) 330-3663 or email here to reach someone today.