Cyclospora Infection

What is a Cyclospora Infection?

A cyclospora infection is caused by a single-celled parasite of the same name. The condition was first diagnosed in 1977, with the number of reports increasing in the following years. The parasite enters the body when a person consumes water or food, often in the form of fresh produce, which has been contaminated by an infected person. Anyone of any age can contract the parasite, although the organism is generally seen in people who live or often travel to countries in the tropical regions.

Cyclospora affects the small intestines and typically causes a person to have watery – and occasionally explosive – diarrhea. It is through this infected stool that an individual can pass the parasite on to someone else. However, it does not become contagious until long after it has passed through a bowel movement. Consequently, direct contact with someone who has not washed their hands is an unlikely way to contract it.

What are the Symptoms of a Cyclospora Infection?

While watery diarrhea is the most common complaint from people dealing with a cyclospora infection, patients may also encounter:

While some individuals may never experience any complications from the parasite, none of these symptoms are specific to cyclospora. A stool sample test is needed to confirm an infection and rule out other causes.

Cyclospora Infection Causes

Cyclospora infection is caused by a parasite called Cyclospora cayetanesis. This microscopic parasite must be ingested, and is usually found in food or water which has been contaminated with feces which contains the parasite.

Person to person transmission of cyclospora infection is very rare. This is because the feces from infected individuals contain only immature cyclospora parasites, which are unable to infect others. It requires several days or even weeks for the parasites from passed stools to mature and become infectious. Instead, the infection usually comes from water or food which has been contaminated with the parasite for several days or weeks.

How is a Cyclospora Infection Treated?

Antibiotics are needed to treat a cyclospora infection. Most medical professionals will prescribe Septra or Bactrim. Cotrim, a combination of these two medications, is also available. Currently, there are no effective alternatives for those who are unable to take these drugs.

Additionally, infected individuals can help themselves feel better by increasing fluid intake to stay hydrated and getting plenty of sleep. Other medicines may be used to combat diarrhea, but patients should consult with their doctors first.

Cyclospora Infection Prevention

In the US, outbreaks of cyclospora infection are rare and tend to come from imported fresh produce which could have been handled by people with the infection. For this reason, it’s wise to avoid imported fresh produce where possible unless the food can be peeled or cooked.

Cyclospora infection tends to be most prevalent in tropical or subtropical countries. When traveling in these regions, you should take great care when consuming fresh produce and water.

Do not drink directly from untreated water sources such as springs, streams, lakes, rivers or wells. If this water must be consumed, boil it for at least one minute first. Alternatively, use bottled water from reputable suppliers. You should take these precautions whenever you use water that might be ingested, for example when cooking, making ice cubes, brushing teeth or washing dentures. Note that chlorine does not kill cyclospora; boiling it is the only way to remove it.

Fresh produce should be washed as a standard procedure, but unfortunately cyclospora infection can still remain on produce that has been thoroughly washed. It is advisable to instead only consume produce which can be peeled or cooked. Only treated water should be used to cook or wash produce.

Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
December 12, 2017
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