The Public Health Agency of Canada is advising Canadians to check where their produce comes from after an outbreak of Cyclospora was reported in four provinces – Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia between May and July.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said it is still looking into a food source linked to the outbreak, however it is known that it is usually associated with fresh produce. Past outbreaks in both Canada and the US have been linked to:
prepackaged salad mix
What is Cyclospora?
According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Cyclospora is a parasite that causes an infection affecting the small intestines and which can lead to “watery diarrhea, with frequent, sometimes explosive, bowel movements.”
People infected with Cyclospora experience a wide range of symptoms and some don’t get sick at all. Others feel as though they have a bad case of stomach flu. There are some that get seriously ill.
Most people develop the following symptoms within one week after being infected with Cyclospora:
- watery diarrhea
- abdominal bloating and gas
- fatigue (tiredness)
- stomach cramps
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- mild fever
It may take 7 – 14 days (a week to 2 weeks) after eating contaminated produce or drinking contaminated water for symptoms to appear.
If left untreated, you may have the symptoms for a few days up to a few months.
Most people have symptoms for 6 to 7 weeks.
Sometimes, symptoms may go away and then return.
If you become ill, drink plenty of water or fluids to prevent dehydration from diarrhea. If you have signs of illness and have reason to believe you have cyclosporiasis, call your health care provider.
How is Cyclospora Spread?
The Cyclospora parasite is spread by people ingesting food contaminated with feces and this most likely occurs when farm workers either (1) defecate in the fields and the produce that is growing becomes contaminated and/or (2) farm workers not washing their hands after a bowel movement and then going to pick produce, contaminating it.
Reducing Risk of Getting Ill
It is very important to note that washing contaminated produce may not get rid of the parasite. The best way to reduce risk is to cook all produce from Tropical and Subtropical countries where Cyclospora is found, including:
- Mexico ***
- Southeast Asia
- Dominican Republic
***For those in British Columbia, remember that some of our imported produce comes from the US, but much of it, particularly from the fall onward, comes from Mexico.
If you’ve been considering “buying local“, now is a good time. Cyclospora is not commonly found on produce from Canada, the United States and European countries.
Planning to Travel to a Tropical or Sub-Tropical Destination?
People traveling to tropical or subtropical regions of the world need to be especially careful about eating fresh produce or drinking untreated water as that may put them at increased risk for infection from this parasite.
Most people recover fully, however, it may take several weeks before an ill person’s intestinal problems completely disappear.