The BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) is encouraging residents to thoroughly wash their fruits and vegetables amid an increase in cases of Cyclospora, a parasite that causes gastrointestinal illness.
Cyclospora is usually found in tropical and subtropical areas – such as Mexico, Cuba, India, and Southeast Asia – but can also be present on foods that are imported to Canada from these regions.
Every spring and summer, B.C. sees cases of Cyclospora, but this year the province has seen more cases than usual.
As of July 31, there have been 43 cases of Cyclospora reported in B.C., at least nine of which were acquired locally, meaning the infection came from within North America.
BCCDC Epidemiologist Dr. Mayank Singal says, on average, B.C. sees just over 30 cases by this time each year, with the previous record being set in 2017, when 41 such cases were reported by July 31.
The BCCDC says it’s unable to comment on where the cases were identified this year for privacy reasons, but Singal notes that infections have been found in every health authority in B.C., including in Island Health.
Like other gastrointestinal illness, Cyclospora can cause symptoms of diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and occasionally fever.
“What can be special about Cyclospora is that diarrhea can last quite a while, it can last for weeks,” said Singal.
“So, as you can imagine, losing fluids over that period of time can make you feel weak and tired, you lose weight as well, so that’s what’s different about Cyclospora compared to other bugs.”
Children, seniors, and people with weakened immune systems are more at risk of a severe illness related to Cyclospora, according to the BCCDC.
Singal says no cases of Cyclospora have led to someone’s death in B.C., as far as he is aware.
How to protect yourself
The BCCDC encourages residents to thoroughly wash imported foods before eating them.
Cooking vegetables also helps reduce the chance of being infected with any gastrointestinal illness.
“Typically, when it’s acquired in Canada, it’s linked to imported foods,” said Singal. “Cyclospora is not naturally found in Canada.”
“The most important thing you can do is wash your hands and really wash those fruits and vegetables,” he added.
The BCCDC has compiled a list of imported fruits and vegetables that have been linked to previous Cyclospora cases, which can be found below:
- snap peas
- green onions
Since many cases of Cyclospora are linked to travel to tropical and subtropical regions, the BCCDC also recommends that people avoid eating fruits or vegetables that can’t be cooked or peeled while visiting these areas, and to drink bottled water or boil water before drinking it.
“Just reminding people to be vigilant,” said Singal. “And of course, a lot of these measures won’t just protect against Cyclospora but other foodborne illnesses as well.”