Health officials in Texas sounded the alarm Monday, as they announced their investigation of the circumstances surrounding at least 58 cases of illness related to the cyclospora parasite just since the beginning of May. While Travis County has been hardest hit, with 16 cases so far, Bexar County is right behind them, with 11 cases reported to date. Again, this is just since the beginning of May, which is why the concern.
They Tweeted their warnings on Monday:
Texas DSHS News Release: Illnesses Caused by Cyclospora Parasite Prompt Public Health Investigation
Educate yourself and share:
— Texas DSHS (@TexasDSHS) July 2, 2018
The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) announced Monday that it is working with local health departments throughout Texas, but they also noted they are also cooperating with health departments around the country, especially those who have been that seeing an unusual number of cases of cyclosporiasis, which is the name for the intestinal illness that is caused by consuming food or water that has been contaminated with the microscopic parasite.
The Source is Yet Unknown
The investigation will attempt to determine the exact source or sources of this outbreak, as a way of preventing further outbreaks. In the past, cyclospora outbreaks have been blamed on imported fresh produce, including pre-packaged salad mix, but there have also been cases linked to basil, snow peas, mesclun greens and raspberries. This is actually the sixth year in a row in which the Texas DSHS has recorded a sudden increase in the number of illnesses related to cyclospora during the late spring and the summer. In the past, several Texas outbreaks have been linked to contaminated fresh cilantro from Mexico as the source.
DSHS noted in their announcement that 319 cases of cyclosporiasis in Texas reported throughout all of 2017, which is why they are so concerned about 58 cases in just May and June of this year.
Outbreak May Be related to Four-State Outbreak
Neither the outbreak notice Monday nor the DSHS health advisory issued June 21 made reference to the ongoing investigation of a cyclosporiasis outbreak that has so far infected 185 people in four other states. That outbreak has been associated with trays of pre-cut fresh vegetables from food giant Del Monte.
The initial symptoms of cyclospora infection can appear between two and 11 days after contamination. The primary symptom of cyclosporiasis is watery diarrhea, which can last anywhere from a few days to a few months, depending on the health of the patient and how quickly they receive treatment. Other symptoms can include fatigue, a loss of appetite, unusual and sudden weight loss, abdominal cramps and bloating, an increase in gas, vomiting, nausea, and a low-grade fever. According to DSHS, these symptoms may persist, but they also may also come and go at various times over the course of several weeks or even several months. In other words, the parasite is persistent, so assuming a cure may not be the best course.
What to Do If You Experience Symptoms
Anyone experiencing the symptoms above may have been contaminated with cyclospora and should immediately contact their physician. This is true if they have diarrhea that lasts more than a couple days. Because these outbreaks have become so common in recent years and because tests for cyclospora infection are still not considered routine, public health officials in Texas and around the country have been advising health care providers to consider testing patients for the cyclospora parasite if the patient has had a diarrheal illness for more than a couple days, or who has presented with diarrhea and severe weight loss and/or fatigue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is possible to be infected with cyclospora more than once, so there is no way anyone can assume that, because they had it before, they can’t get it again.
Anyone experiencing diarrhea that last more than a couple days should be drinking a lot of water, to prevent dehydration. Excessive diarrhea can also lead to kidney problems, and the symptoms can be worse for small children, the elderly and people with compromised immune symptoms, who can experience symptoms for many months.
Because of this outbreak, DSHS officials recommend that everyone preparing fresh produce, whether at home, or at a facility open to the public, to thoroughly wash everything. They do acknowledge that washing alone may not be effective, since cyclospora parasites are difficult to wash off. They do say, however, that cooking will kill the parasite and that infection is not passed on from person to person.