Cyclosporiasis: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, & Prevention


Cyclosporiasis is a parasitic infection in the intestines that can cause symptoms such as watery diarrhea and stomach pain.

Cyclosporiasis is most common in tropical or subtropical areas and regions of poor sanitation. The most commonly involved areas for United States citizens are Mexico, Peru and Guatemala. Most cases of this form of food poisoning develop in people who have traveled to these areas or eaten produce imported from these countries.


How common is cyclosporiasis?

Cyclosporiasis occurs in an estimated 15,000 people in the United States each year.

What causes cyclosporiasis?

Cyclosporiasis is caused by eating or drinking food or water that is contaminated with the parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis. Symptoms begin about 7 days after the contaminated food has been consumed. The parasite is in the feces (stool) of people who have been infected; however, it is not spread directly from one person to another by contact.

What are the symptoms of cyclosporiasis?

When symptoms of cyclosporiasis occur, they include:

  • Watery or explosive diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bloating and gas
  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • Low-grade fever
  • Nausea and stomach cramps
  • Vomiting

In some cases, people with Cyclospora infection do not have any symptoms.

How is cyclosporiasis diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about foods you have eaten in the last 7-10 days to determine if that may be a cause of your symptoms. The doctor may also ask if you have traveled outside the country recently.

Examining the patient’s stool sample under a microscope can help determine if the Cyclospora parasite is causing the symptoms. You may need to provide stool samples on a few different days to confirm this type of food poisoning.

How is cyclosporiasis managed or treated?

Cyclosporiasis may be treated with an antibiotic when necessary. Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole, also called TMP/SMX (Bactrim®, Septra®, or Cotrim®) is the most commonly used treatment. The doctor may also recommend an anti-diarrheal medication, rest and fluids.

In many cases, people who have healthy immune systems will get better on their own, and do not need treatment.

What complications are associated with cyclosporiasis?

People with cyclosporiasis who do not get enough fluids can become dehydrated (not enough fluids in the body). This condition can be especially dangerous for elderly people, infants and people who have serious illnesses or compromised immune systems.

Can cyclosporiasis be prevented?

You can reduce your risk of cyclosporiasis by handling food properly. You can do this by:

  • Avoiding water or food that could be contaminated by feces.
  • Rinsing fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating.
  • Washing your hands with warm water and soap after touching fruits and vegetables.
  • Putting peeled, cooked, or cut fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator within 2 hours.
  • Storing vegetables and fruit separately from raw meat, seafood and poultry.
  • Washing all surfaces, dishes and utensils with hot water, soap and a disinfectant when necessary.

What is the prognosis (outlook) for people who have cyclosporiasis?

People who have cyclosporiasis usually improve within a few days of treatment. People who do not receive treatment can have symptoms that relapse (go away and come back) for up to a month or more. You can be infected with cyclosporiasis several times.

When should I call the doctor about a cyclosporiasis infection?

Contact your doctor if you develop diarrhea that does not go away after a few days. If you have cyclosporiasis and cannot keep enough fluids down to avoid dehydration, tell your doctor.

What questions should I ask my doctor about a cyclosporiasis infection?

If you have cyclosporiasis, you may want to ask your doctor:

  • What can I do to ease symptoms while I recover?
  • How can I avoid spreading cyclosporiasis to others?
  • Can I avoid another infection with cyclosporiasis?
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