U.S – In response to a concerning surge in foodborne infections caused by the Cyclospora cayetanensis parasite, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken a proactive stance to address this growing public health concern.

Cyclospora infections have been on the rise in recent years, prompting the FDA to join forces with the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF) in the quest to unravel the mysteries of this insidious pathogen.

Cyclospora cayetanensis is a protozoan parasite with a remarkable host-specificity, known to infect different mammalian species.

Its complex life cycle involves the shedding of hardy oocysts in the stools of infected individuals. These oocysts, although non-infectious when first expelled, become dangerous after undergoing sporulation over a period of 7 to 14 days in specific environmental conditions.

It is believed that these oocysts make their way onto the surfaces of food, particularly produce, via contamination from agricultural water tainted by human fecal matter. Once consumed, contaminated produce can lead to infections in humans.

The alarming spike in Cyclospora infections has not gone unnoticed. In 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed 1,241 cases of cyclosporiasis among individuals who had not traveled internationally.

This was a stark increase compared to 2019 and 2018 when CDC reported 2,408 and 2,299 cases, respectively.

A decade earlier, between 2000 and 2017, only 1,730 cases of cyclosporiasis were reported in the U.S. This surge has not only piqued concern but prompted immediate action.

In 2021, the FDA unveiled its plan to combat the escalating public health threat posed by Cyclospora. This plan involved close collaboration with the NACMCF, aimed at providing critical information to prioritize research and implement novel food safety measures.

In 2022, the FDA published an article in Food Safety Magazine, underlining the urgency for a comprehensive understanding of how C. cayetanensis contaminates water and produce.

NACMCF’s recent report tackles the significant knowledge and data gaps that have hindered efforts to mitigate foodborne cyclosporiasis effectively.

The committee, recognizing the challenges associated with culturing or propagating Cyclospora cayetanensis (C. cayetanensis) directly, strongly recommends the development of practical laboratory methods to propagate its oocysts for further research, enabling a deeper understanding of this pathogen.

Due to the limited availability of C. cayetanensis oocysts, the committee advocates for research involving surrogates, particularly the closely related C. Eimeria, as a viable alternative.

Studying these surrogates can provide valuable insights into control strategies and environmental persistence, aiding in the development of effective preventive measures.

Additionally, the committee emphasizes the need to enhance detection methods for C. cayetanensis in food and environmental samples.

This can be achieved by evaluating multiple genetic targets and ensuring the implementation of robust, reproducible, and tolerant methodologies.

Moreover, the committee underscores the importance of focusing on clear sanitation guidelines and regular employee training, especially for individuals with a history of recent travel to regions where C. cayetanensis infections are prevalent.

These recommendations aim to advance research, improve detection, and establish preventive measures, collectively contributing to the overall control of C. cayetanensis infections.

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