The health districts in northern Virginia are notifying the public that there has been a significant increase in the number of reported cyclosporiasis cases since mid-June 2019. To date there are 15 cyclosporiasis cases reported in the Northern Region of Virginia, up from eight at this time last year. Additionally, more than 40 people from two large businesses in the area have reported gastrointestinal illness, and are under investigation for suspected cyclosporiasis. A food or water source of this outbreak has not yet been identified, and the investigation is ongoing.
Cyclosporiasis is an intestinal illness caused by a microscopic parasite. People can become infected by consuming food or water contaminated with feces or stool that contains the parasite. Illness occurs most often in tropical and subtropical regions. In the United States, past foodborne outbreaks of cyclosporiasis have been linked to various types of imported fresh produce, such as raspberries, basil, arugula, snow peas, mesclun lettuce, and cilantro. Of 39 U.S. Cyclospora outbreaks between 2000-2017, none have been associated with commercially frozen or canned products.
Northern Virginia health districts are investigating cases across the region and working to identify the potential source or sources of the outbreak. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is working with local, state and federal health officials to investigate the increase in Cyclospora illnesses and will share information as it becomes available.
Cyclosporiasis typically causes watery diarrhea, with frequent, sometimes explosive, stools within one to two weeks after exposure. Other common symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss, abdominal cramping or bloating, nausea and prolonged fatigue. Vomiting, body aches, low-grade fever, and other flu-like symptoms may be noted. If untreated, the illness may last for a few days to a month or longer and may seem to go away but come back again.
Anyone experiencing symptoms of cyclosporiasis should visit their healthcare provider. They can test for Cyclospora and prescribe the correct treatment.
Following safe fruit and vegetable handling recommendations is the best way to prevent cyclosporiasis:
Wash: Wash hands with soap and warm water before and after handling or preparing fruits and vegetables.
Prepare: Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting, or cooking.
Fruits and vegetables that are labeled “prewashed” do not need to be washed again at home. Scrub firm fruits and vegetables, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush. Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fruits and vegetables before preparing and eating.
Store: Refrigerate cut, peeled, or cooked fruits and vegetables as soon as possible, or within 2 hours.
For more information, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology/epidemiology-fact-sheets/cyclosporiasis/ or www.cdc.gov/parasites/. For questions, please contact your local health department office. Locate contact information for your closest office at www.vdh.virginia.gov/health-department-locator.
*Northern Virginia Health Districts involved in this investigation include Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax (Fairfax County, the City of Fairfax and Falls Church), Loudoun, and Prince William (Prince William County and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park).