Cyclospora outbreak in Canada possibly linked to imported produce

The government is advising Canadians to check where their produce comes from after an outbreak of cyclospora was reported in four provinces.

51 cases reported between May and July in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and B.C.

The Public Health Agency of Canada suggests buying fresh produce grown in countries where cyclospora is not common, such as Canada, the United States and European countries. (CBC)

The federal government is advising Canadians to check where their produce comes from after an outbreak of cyclospora was reported in four provinces.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said 51 cases of the intestinal illness cyclosporiasis were recorded in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia between May and July this year.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said it is still looking into a food source linked to the outbreak.

The Public Health Agency advises anyone who believes they are ill to stay hydrated and contact a health-care provider.

The health agency added that previous outbreaks in Canada and the U.S. have been linked to produce like pre-packaged salad mix, basil, cilantro, raspberries, blackberries, mesclun lettuce and snow and snap peas 

Most people who contract the illness recover fully, but it may take up to seven weeks before their symptoms disappear, according to health officials.

What is cyclospora?

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, cyclospora is a parasite that causes an infection affecting the small intestines and which can lead to "watery diarrhea, with frequent, sometimes explosive, bowel movements."

The parasite is spread by people ingesting food contaminated with feces, which public health officials call poor toileting practices — farm workers defecating in fields, or not washing their hands after a bowel movement, for example.

While some bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses can be transported via produce, eggs and meat, cyclospora are only known to be transmitted on produce.

Symptoms include watery diarrhea, abdominal bloating and gas, fatigue, stomach cramps, loss of appetite, weight loss, mild fever and nausea.

It is hard to prevent cyclosporiasis, since washing contaminated produce does not get rid of the parasite, according to health officials.

As a result, the government recommends cooking produce from countries where cyclospora is found. According to the health agency, the parasite is common in tropical and subtropical countries including Peru, Cuba, India, Nepal, Mexico, Guatemala and Dominican Republic, as well as in Southeast Asia.

It says cyclospora is not commonly found on produce from Canada, the United States and European countries.

With files from The Canadian Press