If you’ve spent the last couple months in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, or BC, you’ll likely have heard of the cylcospora outbreak that’s made more than 80 Canadians sick so far. In the last several weeks, there hasn’t been any new cases, so it’s likely that public health officials won’t be able to find which contaminated batch of food started it all. But what is cylcospora? How does it spread? And how can you avoid it?
Cylcospora is a type of protist (mostly single cellular organisms with some traits that resemble plants and animals) that can cause disease in humans and potentially other types of primates. As far as research can tell, cylcospora needs humans in order to mature and procreate.
When a person ingests a fruit or vegetable contaminated with cylcospora spores, the life cycle begins. The digestion process breaks down the spore releasing the disease. After it has finish reproducing (creating new spores) in the intestines, the cylcospora will cause the person to experience diarrhea, and the new spores will be released in the person’s fecal matter — their poop. If that poop gets onto a new batch of produce, usually when a farm hand doesn’t wash their hands properly, than the life cycle can begin again when the infected produce is eaten.
While no vaccine exists against cylcospora, it’s fortunately pretty rare on Canadian soil. In fact, it’s often called traveller’s diarrhea because it mostly affects tourists traveling to tropical areas such as Peru, Haiti, or Brazil. The best way to avoid cylcospora is to not travel to areas where there are frequent cases. As for avoiding the outbreak here at home, take care to wash fruits and vegetables carefully — especially those imported from South America. If you can peal imported produce, that will help to remove some if not all of the spores. Finally, for hairy fruits that you don’t peal (such as raspberries) try to stick to domestic sources.
Most people with a healthy immune system are able to handle cylcospora on their own. It’s an unpleasant disease but not a dangerous one. As with all outbreaks, it’s important not to panic and to do what you can to prevent your family from getting sick. But if they do become ill, don’t worry, Health Risk is here to help.