Cyclospora Infection

1 What is Cyclospora Infection?

Cyclospora infection is an intestinal infection characterized by watery, and sometimes explosive, diarrhea.

You can get infected by this disease when you consume food or water containing the unicellular microscopic parasite.

The diagnosis requires specialized stool test because diarrhea is a non-specific symptom of various illnesses.

Antibiotics are used to treat cyclospora infection.

Consuming safe food and water is the key to prevent this condition.

2 Symptoms

The signs and symptoms cyclospora infection include:

  • Frequent, watery diarrhea, diarrhea can alternate with constipation
  • Reduced hunger and loss of weight
  • Abdomen feels full with gas
  • Burping
  • Pain in stomach
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Fatigue that can continue for long even other symptoms subside
  • Feeling sick (malaise)

Some people may carry the parasite yet remain asymptomatic while in other people, signs and symptoms usually start appearing within 2 to 11 days of consuming contaminated food or water.

The diarrhea may subside within a few days on its own, or it may last for weeks. The symptoms can last for in patients with HIV or compromised immune system.

When to see a doctor

Your diarrhea may be caused by various reasons. Consult your doctor if the diarrhea persists for several days or recurs. Inform your doctor if you suspect being exposed to the parasite during a cyclospora outbreak or travelling to the affected regions. Look for the major sign, that is dehydration.

Don’t miss the warning signs of dehydration, such as:

  • Sunken eyes
  • Dryness in mouth and tongue
  • Reduced production of tears
  • Decreased urine output
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3 Causes

The microorganism that causes cyclospora infection is Cyclospora cayetanensis. It is a unicellular parasite that spreads through contaminated food or water and is present in stool of the infected person.

As opposed to some other foodborne parasites, cyclospora becomes infectious only after days or weeks of being excreted in the stool.

So, your chances of catching the infection directly from an infected person is almost zero.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Diagnosis of cyclospora infection is confirmed by lab test of stool sample. There are no blood tests to diagnose a cyclospora infection.

Mild signs are often self-limiting and do not require medical care. But you need to visit your doctor if the illness persists longer or the symptoms of dehydration become apparent.

How can I prepare for the visit

Getting prepared for the visit can optimize the therapy and help make the visit more fruitful.

  • List out all the symptoms
  • Mention if you have recently traveled to places where you might have been exposed to the causative organism
  • Write down your key medical information.
  • Write down the names of all your medications, vitamins or supplements.
  • Make a list of the questions to ask your doctor.

Some typical question can be:

  • What could be possible cause of my symptoms?
  • Do I need any tests?
  • What are the treatment options?
  • Is my condition self-limiting or do I need to take medicines?
  • Can you suggest me some home remedies to alleviate my symptoms?

What does the doctor want to know

A clear talk with your doctor can optimize the therapy and improve the outcomes. Prepare yourself to answer some essential questions from your doctor.

Your doctor might ask you typical questions like:

  • When did you first notice the symptoms?
  • Do the symptoms occur continuously?
  • How many episodes of vomiting or diarrhea occur in a day?
  • Does the vomit or diarrhea contain bile, mucus or blood?
  • Do you have a fever?
  • Does anything improve or worsen your symptoms?

5 Treatment

Cyclospora infection is treated by using a combination antibiotic known as Cotrimoxazole, which contains two antibiotics namely trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole.

For those who cannot take this drug combination, symptomatic treatment is the only option.

6 Prevention

The simplest way to prevent cyclospora infection is to consume safe food and water.

Exercise special caution when traveling to developing nations.

The infection may also spread through foods that are imported from the affected areas.

In such case, you are advised to check the food safety alert section of the Food and Drug Administration's website.

7 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with cyclospora infection.

If you are healthy otherwise, mild to moderate cases of cyclospora infection can be treated by simply increasing the amount of water you take.

For children and infants, use of oral rehydration solution (ORS) is recommended but not sports drinks and carbonated beverages.

8 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with cyclospora infection.

Dehydration caused by the loss of fluid and electrolytes is the major health concern which can be treated by increasing fluid intake.

If dehydration is severe, you may need hospitalization.

Some population sub-groups such as people with other serious illnesses, infants, young children and older adults need special care so as to avoid severe dehydration

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