For the sixth summer in a row, Texas state and local health officials are busy trying to find out what has thus far caused more than 200 reported cases of cyclospora to date. So far, the foodborne pathogen has hit 45 Texas counties this year, including 28 cases in Bexar County alone. That total is only surpassed by Travis County, which has suffered 39 cases. Of the 200 cases statewide, all but two of the cases have been reported since May, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
What is Cyclospora?
Cyclospora is a foodborne parasite and pathogen, and contamination usually happens when people eat fresh fruits and vegetables, usually imported from Central and South America that have been contaminated with the cyclospora parasite. Cyclospora infections usually produce diarrhea, fatigue and loss of appetite, but the illness can also lead to severe dehydration, fever, aches and severe abdominal pain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms may take a week or more to appear and they can hang on for as long as few weeks or even a few months. Sometimes, symptoms can disappear for a while and then reappear.
Bexar County and Texas state investigators are currently trying to determine whether the outbreak originated from a common source and what that source may be. They have so far located several clusters of cyclospora infections in specific areas, but they have been unable to identify a specific item that may be causing the infections.
As noted, this is the sixth straight summer in which the state has seen a significant cyclospora outbreak. Last year, the state saw more than 300 reports of infection. Of the 28 cases reported in Bexar County, more than half have been reported since the County Department of Health announced its investigation of the outbreak in early July.
The Investigation is Ongoing
As part of health officials’ investigation, those who have been diagnosed with a cyclospora infection are provided with a questionnaire, which asks patients to list everything they have eaten in the last couple weeks and whether they have eaten in restaurants or at home. They also ask to know which restaurants they have visited recently and whether they have traveled out of the country and, if so, where. The information they collect can often lead them to common places, like restaurants, grocery stores or even farmer’s markets.
To limit the spread of the parasite, Texans everywhere, but especially in those areas hardest hit by the bug are being asked to wash fresh produce thoroughly. Health officials caution, however, that washing does not eliminate the risk of infection. Cooking thoroughly will kill the parasite.
Another Recall for Foodborne Illness
This is not the only foodborne illness federal and Texas state and local health officials are trying to warn people about. Last week, Kraft Heinz Food Company announced a recall of about 8,000 cases, or about 110,000 jars, of Taco Bell Salsa Con Queso Mild Cheese Dip due to the possibility the dip may have been contaminated with Botulism.
According to a statement on the company website, Kraft Heinz Food officials reported the affected jars are “…showing signs of product separation which can lead to a potential health hazard. …This could create conditions that could allow for the growth of Clostridium botulinum (C. botulinum), a bacterium capable of causing life-threatening illness or death. … Consumers are warned not to use the product even if it does not look or smell spoiled.” As of now, there have been no complaints or reports of illness related to this Dip, and the company said they were taking this action “out of an abundance of caution.”
Botulism is an extreme form of food poisoning that is often fatal. The illness can come with symptoms such as general weakness, dizziness, double vision, and trouble with speaking or swallowing, as well as difficulty breathing, abdominal distension and constipation. Anyone experiencing these problems should seek medical attention immediately.
The specific products include the 15 oz size glass jar of Taco Bell Salsa Con Queso Mild Cheese Dip with a UPC Code 021000024490 and a best used by date of Dec. 27, 2018, or Jan. 23, 2019. As of now, it is unknown where these jars are located. They may have only been shipped to retailers, but there is a possibility some were sent to restaurants. Consumers who have this product are being asked to not eat it. They should either throw it away or return it to the store of purchase, where they will receive a full refund.