Health officials are warning Canadians about an outbreak of the intestinal illness Cyclospora, as dozens of cases are being investigated across the country.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said two people have been hospitalized from the parasite and 83 cases are being investigated, but no deaths have been reported.
The cases are mainly in Ontario, but there have been some reported in B.C., Alberta and Quebec.
Cyclospora is a parasite that is passed in people’s feces. It spreads when people consume food or water that has been contaminated. This causes the intestinal illness called cyclosporiasis.
Cyclospora is most common in certain tropical countries. Canadians can contract the illness when travelling to those regions – this can happen year-round. Non-travel related illnesses are more common in Canada during the spring and summer months.
Although the source of the current outbreak hasn’t been determined, past outbreaks have been linked to various types of imported produce, such as pre-packaged salads, basil, cilantro, mesclun lettuce, snow peas and berries.
Symptoms and treatment
According to Health Canada, within a week of being infected, people may experience stomach cramps, diarrhea, bloating and gas, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite and weight loss.
The infection can be treated with antibiotics, however if left untreated, the illness can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks.
People at a higher risk for getting seriously ill from cyclosporiasis include young children, seniors and people with weakened immune systems.
How to avoid getting sick
There’s no way to tell if food or water has been contaminated, so when travelling to a region where Cyclospora is native, only drink water from a safe source, such as sealed bottled water. Eat only cooked food and choose fruit that can be peeled.
At home, water all imported packaged produce and use a scrub brush to wash the surfaces of fruits and vegetables (even if you plan on peeling or cutting the product).
Whether at home or away, always wash your hands with soap after using the washroom and after preparing raw foods.
To reduce the chances of getting sick from contaminated food in general, health officials offer a variety of tips for the proper buying, storing and preparing of fresh food and leftovers. You can read more on those here.