Cyclospora Outbreak Cause Unknown: Texas Hardest Hit
Investigators at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continue to get reports of cyclospora infections, nearly two months after two related cases were reported in Iowa on June 28. As of Aug. 22, at least 625 people have been infected by the parasite across 22 states. About 83 percent of the cases – 517 – have been reported in Iowa, Nebraska and Texas, with Texas leading the way, with over 200 cases.
Unfortunately, even after two months, the investigation has still failed to identify a source for the outbreak, which is officially the largest since 1997, when more than 1,400 people were sickened by raspberries imported from Guatemala. They have pinpointed contaminated lettuce as the likely culprit, but pinpointing a supplier has been difficult. Food and Drug Administration investigators are making environmental assessments of Taylor Farms facilities in Mexico, because, when the outbreak started in Iowa and Nebraska, it was traced to Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurants owned by Darden Restaurants, Inc., serving salads that were produced by Taylor Farms.
Unfortunately, since then the number of Texas cases leapfrogged over Iowa and Nebraska, and Darden officials say they don’t use Taylor Farms salad mix in their Texas restaurants. But looking at the pattern of the outbreak on a map, it goes right through the center of the country. Produce like lettuce has a relatively short shelf life, investigators decided it makes sense in light of the fact that the pattern moved north, from Mexico and not east or west, from California or Florida.
Cyclospora infection is caused by a one-cell parasite that enters the body when contaminated food or water is ingested. In most cases, it comes through contaminated produce. The most common symptom of cyclospora infection is explosive diarrhea, although other possible symptoms can include a loss of appetite, significant weight loss, bloating, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting. Symptoms often don’t show up until a week or more after contamination. Symptoms, especially the diarrhea, may go away in a few days, or it could become chronic, and last for weeks, or even months, in cases contracted by children, the elderly, or those with compromised immune systems.
Persistent diarrhea can lead to other health problems, especially dehydration. The symptoms of dehydration can include persistent dry mouth, sunken eyes, reduced tear production, and decreased urine output. If you have any symptoms of cyclospora infection, you should see a doctor. The infection can be treated with antibiotics.
Eventually, federal and/or Texas state officials will pinpoint a source or sources for this cyclospora outbreak. And there is a possibility that they will find that the outbreak was easily preventable, by adopting healthy agricultural practices.