250 people or more have become ill from a rare parasite that might have tainted fresh produce that is shipped across state lines, federal health officials have said. The parasite, known as “Cyclospora,” is a rare one and federal health officials say they are trying to do what they can to block its rapid spread. The region most affected by the infection is Midwestern United States.
Officials said that 118 or more cases in Iowa, 65 in Texas, 63 in Nebraska, four in Wisconsin, and one in Illinois had been reported.
Around eight people are hospitalized, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From where the illness spread is not known for sure and the spread occurred between mid-June to July, said Dr. Barbara Herwaldt, who is a medical epidemiologist with the CDC’s division of parasitic diseases and malaria centers.
She said, “Nothing has been implicated yet in a formal sense,” adding, “No food item has been identified as the source of the outbreak.”
After investigating people who got ill, officials in Nebraska and other states suggested that fresh vegetables may be the source. Contaminated produce that was shipped across state lines might be the cause of the spread of the infection, said Herwaldt.
It is also possible that water used in growing the produce was infected or imported produce is the source, said Herwaldt. She further said, “What we don’t know yet is whether the transmission or spread of the parasite is ongoing.”
The Cyclospora is a microscopic protozoan parasite. The parasite is excreted in human stool. The organisms are uni-cellular, able to breath, move and reproduce.
Symptoms of infection include diarrhea, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, bloating, intestinal gas, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches and low-grade fever.
These symptoms usually go away with common antibiotic administration, said Herwaldt. She also said that in case of any unexplained stomach issues, one must seek medical advice. Washing hands well when handling fresh produce and scrubbing the produce well before usage is recommended. Refrigeration also helps in reducing the ability of the parasite to infect people, said Herwaldt.