Cyclospora Food Poisoning Victims Go Undiagnosed for Weeks

August 20, 2013 — The number of victims of the Cyclospora food poisoning outbreak nears 593 people in 20 states, many people are coming forward to report suffering for weeks before they were diagnosed. Unfortunately, diagnosis of a Cyclospora infection (also known as “cyclosporiasis”) is difficult.

First, doctors must have a high level of suspicion. The doctor must specifically request special laboratory tests for Cyclospora that are not routine. Then, patients must give multiple stool samples on different days. A microbiologist must check the samples for microscopic single-celled oocysts, which are immature “seeds” of the parasite.

ABC News reports on a case of cyclosporiasis in a woman from Texas. Donna Heller, a 54 year-old teacher from Crowley, Texas, said:

“I had to wait three weeks to find out what was wrong. It was very frustrating. I found myself in tears a lot of the time.”

She developed symptoms on June 26, including nausea, diarrhea, cramps, and bloating. The symptoms would go away and return (relapse), which is common in Cyclospora infections. Her doctor thought the illness was a virus and didn’t prescribe any medications. When the symptoms didn’t go away, she visited a gastroenterologist, but was told she would have to wait until August 12 to get an appointment.

When Heller heard about the Cyclospora outbreak, she visited an emergency care clinic to get tested. The clinic took blood tests, which were negative for the parasite, and the antibiotics they prescribed didn’t cure her disease.

A few days later, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) called her and told her that she tested positive for the Cyclospora parasite. Doctors investigating the disease interviewed her to find out what she had eaten in the last few weeks.

Unfortunately, because she was on a diet, she ate many salads at many restaurants in Texas and it was impossible to pinpoint where she might have become infected with the parasite.

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