ALABAMA (WHNT) — State health officials are digging into a growing number of reports of a gastrointestinal illness across Alabama, especially since it’s so easy to contract.

Cyclosporiasis infections have spiked in the Yellowhammer state, as the Alabama Department of Health (ADPH) reported on Wednesday, saying there are twice as many cases as were reported in 2022.

Symptoms of the parasite range from mild to severe, experts say, and can cause an illness resulting in “prolonged [gut] distress, including watery diarrhea with frequent, sometimes explosive, bowel movements that can last for weeks.”

In America, ADPH officials explain that people get sick with Cyclosporiasis by eating contaminated fresh produce grown outside of the country, or water that is contaminated.

Infected people shed unsporulated (non-infective; immature) Cyclospora cayetanensis oocysts in their stool; immature oocysts usually require at least 1–2 weeks under favorable laboratory conditions to sporulate and become infective. An unsporulated oocyst, with undifferentiated cytoplasm, is shown (far left), next to a sporulating oocyst that contains two immature sporocysts (A). An oocyst that was mechanically ruptured has released one of its two sporocysts (B). One free sporocyst is shown as well as two free sporozoites, the infective stage of the parasite (C). Oocysts (D) are auto-fluorescent when viewed under ultraviolet microscopy (E). (Credit: CDC/DPDx)

Severe cases could require hospitalization, though officials emphasize that those with healthy immune systems can recover without treatment. Anyone with a poor or weak immune system might require special treatment.

The illness is not contagious, but the ADPH encourages anyone who has experienced diarrhea, stomach cramps, bloating or other gastrointestinal symptoms for several days to seek medical attention.

Health experts say the best way to prevent getting infected with the parasite includes:

  • Avoid food or water that might have been contaminated with stool
  • Wash hands with soap and warm water before and after handling or preparing fruits and vegetables
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting, or cooking.

To learn more about Cyclosporiasis, you can visit the Centers for Disease Control’s website here.