Cyclospora: Answers to Common Questions

There are many misconceptions about the parasite cyclospora, which has sickened nearly 70 North Texans this summer.

Nearly 400 people in 16 states have contracted the rare parasite. Twenty-two people have been hospitalized.

Here are the answers to some of your questions:

Is it contagious?

Dr. Edward Dominguez at Methodist Medical Center in Dallas said it's the common question he gets.

"There is no person-to-person transmission. ... It has to go through a host, usually contaminated food," he said.

Infected people do not shed infective forms of the parasite. The parasite is though to require days to weeks in favorable environmental conditions to become infective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How should fruits and vegetables be washed?

Dominguez said it’s reasonable to wash your vegetables and fruit instead of just rinsing them under water.

It's a good idea to use something with acidity, such as lemon juice or some vinegar. Premade mixes are sold. Using something with acidity brings down the amount of organisms in your produce.

"Let's say you have a million organisms on there. At that level on that orange, I'm going to get sick,” he said. "But when I wash it ... with a product like that and then wash it with warm water and dry it off and take the rind off, I can knock it down to 100 organisms and, at that level, I'm not going to get sick."

However, thorough washing may not eliminate the risk of cyclospora transmission because the parasite can be difficult to wash off all types of produce, according to the Dallas County health department. Treatment with chlorine or iodine is also unlikely to kill the parasite.

Can you get cyclospora from meat?

Dominguez said cyclospora cannot be contracted from meat because the types of organisms found in meat are very different.

But meat could be cross-contaminated. For example, putting meat on a bag of contaminated produce would contaminate the meat, as would using the same chopping board or utensils.

"I would recommend that you use a different block or utensils to prepare your meats and not cross contaminate," he said.

How is cyclospora treated?

Cyclospora is treatable with sulfa antibiotics, which are usually used to treat urinary-tract infections or staph infections. There is no effective treatment for people who have a sulfa allergy, according to the CDC.

In people with good immune systems, cyclospora can run its course and leave their bodies without treatment. The illness may last for a few days to a month or longer.

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