Cyclospora in Produce: Parasite, Not Stomach Virus, Sickens Hundreds


Home / Cyclospora in Produce: Parasite, Not Stomach Virus, Sickens Hundreds
Cyclospora has sickened many people across the U.S. but no one knows which product it's coming from. Image by Consequentially

Cyclospora has sickened many people across the U.S. but no one knows which product it’s coming from. Image by Consequentially

A parasite called cyclospora has sickened over 200 people across the United States. Although commonly reported as a ‘stomach virus’ – these sufferers are the victims of a parasitic infection.

Food-borne illnesses cause about 48 million Americans (one in six people) to become sick each year.

There are more than 128,000 people hospitalized each year and 3,000 people die from food-borne illnesses every year in the United States, according to the U.S Food and Drug Administration.

Parasites, viruses, bacteria, and fungi are common causes of food-borne illness; knowing the difference between them is important when it comes to food safety.

What is a Parasite?

Parasites are organisms that live on or in a host, and are often bigger than bacteria, although some can be smaller.

Parasites are part of a large group of organisms called eukaryotes, which is your typical ‘cell’ complete with a nucleus and organelles enclosed in a membrane.

Bacteria and viruses, however, do not have a nucleus.

Parasites can also be made up of one cell or multiple cells; and depending on the parasite, some can replicate with or without a host.

Parasites can cause disease in humans – the one that has been in the news recently is the parasite called cyclospora – the culprit behind an outbreak of cyclosporiasis.

Cyclospora has been linked to fresh produce grown in sub tropical and tropical regions, but has yet to be determined where the outbreak of infection is stemming from. So far, it has sickened 285 people in 11 states. The cyclospora outbreak has some people confused; thinking it is a virus or a bacteria, which cause most of the food-borne illnesses in the United States.

What is a Virus?

Viruses are generally round and can only replicate inside living cells of animals, plants, or bacteria – they cannot replicate outside of their hosts’ cell like parasites can, and instead of eating food, viruses take over the energy and material from the host’s cells.

Viruses contain a nucleic acid, either DNA or RNA and protein. The nucleic acid contains the genetic material for each virus and a shell, called a capsid forms around the nucleic acid.

The infectious part of the virus is in the nucelic acid where once the capsid is stripped, it can then infect the host. Viruses can cause all sorts of illnesses from food-borne illnesses to the common cold, chicken pox, as well as many others.

Some examples of food-borne illnesses that are caused from viruses include rotaviruses, noroviruses, adenoviruses, sapoviruses and astroviruses.

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