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Farmers' Market Vendors Prepare To Prevent Cyclospora Infection

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (CBS 2/FOX 28) -- There is a strain of stomach illness spreading that has public health officials concerned.

It’s called cyclospora. It can come from your fresh produce, and it leads to months of intestinal issues.

When asked, the Linn County Public Health Department said they did not see it coming. Cyclospora is rare.

Chris Lynch shops at the farmers market in Cedar Rapids. She loves buying her fruit and vegetables there.

“Because that is the food of choice. It tastes good,” Chris said.

But until now, she didn’t know about an increase in cyclospora, which can stem from fruits and vegetables.

It is spread by swallowing food or water that is contaminated with infected fecal material.

“No, I’m not concerned. I may take an extra wash. Plus, I’m going to cook. There’s nothing I’m not going to cook,” Chris said.

The Iowa Department of Public Health said there have been 22 cases statewide, with almost half of those cases, 10, coming right from Linn County.

Prior to this, only 10 cases were reported in all of Iowa in the past 20 years.

So how do you know if you have it?

“It’s frequent episodes of loose watery stools, so [patients] are not feeling well. They’ll want to follow up with their physician on this,” said Heather Meador, Linn County Public Health nurse.

The water diarrhea could last as long as 57 days and can be managed with an antibiotic. Washing is the key to preventing this illness.

Meador said to run all your produce under cold water and allow time for it to dry. Also, make sure to wash your hands.

“We can’t stress enough -- clean hands do make a difference,” Meador said.

These are practices folks at the farmers’ market say they’re putting into play.

“Make sure you always, before you handle your produce, wash it. Wash your hands yourself,” vendor Kitty Smith said.

“I won’t stop shopping at the farmers’ market,” Chris said.

If you are infected, it may take a week before you see symptoms.

Fact sheet information (Courtesy Iowa Department of Public Health):

What is Cyclospora?
Cyclospora is a parasite that is too small to be seen with the naked eye.  Its full name is Cyclospora cayetanensis. Cases of Cyclospora infection (cyclosporiasis) have been reported with increased frequency since the mid-1980s. In the last several years, outbreaks of cyclosporiasis have been reported in the United States and Canada.
 
How is Cyclospora spread?
Cyclospora is spread by swallowing water or food that was contaminated with infected stool. For example, outbreaks of cyclosporiasis have been linked to various types of fresh produce. We do not know how common the various ways of spread are.  It is unknown if animals can be infected and spread infection to humans.
 
Cyclospora is not infectious at the time it is passed in bowel movements.  The parasite does not become infectious until days to weeks after it is excreted.  Because of this, direct person-to-person transmission is unlikely.  However, so-called indirect transmission might occur.  For example, Cyclospora might be spread if stool from an infected person contaminates something in the “environment” (for example, water) to which someone else is exposed after the parasite has had time to become infectious.
 
Who gets Cyclospora?
Persons of all ages are at risk for infection.  However people living in or traveling to developing countries may be at increased risk, infections also occur in the United States and Canada.  The risk may vary with the season.  Evidence suggests that infection is most common in spring and summer.
 
What are the symptoms of Cyclospora?
Cyclospora infects the small intestine (bowel). It typically causes watery diarrhea with frequent possibly explosive stools.  Other symptoms can include loss of appetite, weight loss, bloating, increased gas, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, tiredness, muscle aches, and low-grade fever.  Some persons infected with Cyclospora do not develop any symptoms.
 
How soon do symptoms appear?
The time between being infected and becoming sick is usually about 1 week.
 
How long will symptoms last?
If left untreated the illness usually lasts for a few days to a month or longer and symptoms may come back one or more times.  Persons with weakened immune systems may experience symptoms for a longer period of time if infected with Cyclospora.
 
What should you do if you think you may be infected?
If you think you may be infected with Cyclospora, you should see your healthcare provider.  Stool specimens will need to be tested to identify the parasite.  More than one stool sample may need to be checked to find the parasite.
 
Can infection with Cyclospora occur more than once?
Yes.  Persons who have been infected with Cyclospora once can become infected again.
 
How can infection be prevented?
Avoiding water or food that may be contaminated with stool may help prevent Cyclospora infection.  An infected person should wash their hands often to prevent the spread of infection and thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
 
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