Virginia public health officials investigating outbreak of intestinal illness in several regions

Cyclospora cayetanensis (image courtesy of the CDC)

An intestinal illness that most commonly afflicts people living in tropical regions has infected nearly 40 people in Virginia.

The Department of Health issued a news release notifying state residents that an increase in cases of cyclosporiasis that began in mid-June has persisted, with 39 confirmed cases compared to a year-to-date average of just nine cases in the past five years.

The investigation began in northern Virginia, but an additional outbreak was identified in the central region. VDH specifically notes that it is currently investigating cafeterias in the Capital One and Valo Park buildings in McLean, as well as the CarMax in Richmond.

Cyclosporiasis is caused by a microscopic parasite, but it’s unlikely to be spread from one person to another, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is usually spread through food, but Virginia’s public health officials have yet to identify a food or water source of the outbreaks.

Outbreaks have been linked to produce, “such as raspberries, basil, arugula, snow peas, mesclun lettuce and cilantro,” the VDH news release states. There were 39 outbreaks of the illness in the U.S. between 2000 and 2017.

Symptoms typically start within one to two weeks of exposure and include diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, abdominal cramping and nausea.

“If untreated, the illness may last for a few days to a month or longer and may seem to go away but come back again,” the news release states.

The department says washing hands and fruits and vegetables thoroughly is the best way to prevent the infection.