Well, here’s some potentially explosive news—in an explosive diarrhea sort of way. Since April, there’s been 210 reports of cyclosporiasis across 22 states in the U.S. with 30 of these cases resulting in hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And cyclosporiasis commonly results in watery diarrhea. Often very watery diarrhea. Often explosive diarrhea.
Now, explosive diarrhea is not a great symptom to have. Rarely will you say, “Besides the explosive diarrhea that I am having, I’m all set to go to the trampoline park.” Cyclosporiasis can leave you with nausea, a loss of appetite, cramping, bloating, increased gas, and fatigue as well. Such symptoms usually start about one to two weeks after you’ve consumed something contaminated with a parasite that foes by the name Cyclospora cayetanensis.
Cyclosporiasis is not your run-of-the-mill diarrhea for about 24-to-48-hours-and-then-everything-is-cool type of gastroenteritis, either. Symptoms can go on for weeks, months, and even longer than that. Without treatment, symptoms of cyclosporiasis can essentially “cycle,” alternating between getting better and getting worse. Having watery diarrhea over longer periods of time can quickly leave you dehydrated, which can become quite dangerous and even life-threatening, especially if you are already weaker or vulnerable.
The CDC has not identified a specific common cause of all 210 of these cases. Typically, you can get Cyclospora by consuming food or water that has been contaminated with feces, which is a medical term for stool, a deuce, a number two, a backdoor trout, a Lincoln Log, poop there is, or whatever else you want to call it. That’s why the CDC recommends that the “best way to prevent cyclosporiasis” is “avoiding food or water that may have been contaminated with feces.” That is important news if all along you’ve been seeking food or water contaminated with feces.
So, assuming that you don’t regularly tell restaurants and other food providers, “Umm, could you put some feces in that,” what’s the best way to prevent cyclosporiasis these days? After all, since the CDC hasn’t yet identified a clear source, avoiding all food and water is not very feasible, unless you happen to be a cactus. Well, the most common food source of Cyclospora is fresh produce, since such items can be handled by many different people. In fact, public health officials have linked 20 of the laboratory-confirmed cyclosporiasis cases in Georgia and Alabama to raw imported broccoli, although to date they haven’t determined a specific distributor. So one thing to do is be aware of how your produce is being handled and avoid and report places that are not employing basic food safety practices such as frequent and thorough hand washing before handling food.
There is no vaccine against Cyclospora. But there is a treatment. It’s an antibiotic known as trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (TMP/SMX), not to be confused with TMZ, which is not a treatment for explosive diarrhea. You may know TMP/SMX by the brand names of Bactrim, Septra, or Cotrim. Unfortunately, if you are allergic to such sulfa drugs, you don’t have any alternative treatment. If you do have a healthy immune system, chances are you will be able to slog through the illness and recover without treatment. But if you do think that you may have cyclosporiasis, contact your doctor as soon as possible. And stop touching other people’s food.