August 11, 2016 3:58 pm
Updated: August 12, 2016 10:23 am

Cyclospora outbreak: Canadian health officials warn of parasite causing illnesses

WATCH: Canadian health officials aren’t sure what the source of this cyclospora outbreak is this time around.

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Canada is grappling with an outbreak of Cyclospora infections with a total of 51 cases reported in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says that people became sick between May and July this year. The majority of the cases were male, with an average age of 49 years old. In one instance, the illness was so severe, the victim had to be hospitalized.

What is cyclospora?

Cyclospora is a microscopic single-celled parasite that is passed in people’s feces, according to PHAC officials.

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“If it comes in contact with food or water, it can infect the people who consume it. This causes an intestinal illnesses called cyclosporiasis,” the federal agency said in its public health notice.

READ MORE: Are food-borne illnesses, recalls on the rise in Canada?

Previous outbreaks of cyclospora in the U.S. and Canada were tied to various types of imported produce, such as prepacked salad mix, basil, cilantro, raspberries, blackberries, mesclun lettuce and snow and snap peas.

Its symptoms include:

  • Water diarrhea
  • Abdominal bloating and gas
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Stomach cramps
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Mild fever
  • Nausea

Where is cyclospora typically found?

Not in Canadian food or drinking water.

The parasite is most commonly found in some tropical and sub-tropical countries, such as Peru, Cuba, India, Nepal, Mexico, Guatemala, Southeast Asia and Dominican Republic.

In Canada, illnesses from the parasite typically surface in the spring and summer months.

READ MORE: Navigating gaps in Canada’s food safety system

Health officials aren’t sure what the source of this outbreak is this time around.

Who is most at risk and how can you protect yourself?

Health officials say Canadians travelling to tropical regions of the world who eat fresh produce or drink untreated water are most at risk. But most people recover fully, the agency says.

Preventing cyclospora is tricky. You can wash produce to get rid of the parasite, cook food thoroughly or stick to produce grown in countries where the parasite isn’t common.

If you’re travelling to an area that deals with cyclospora often, avoid food that’s washed in local drinking water, drink water from a safe source or eat cooked food you can peel yourself.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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