Cyclospora Infections Continue To Climb Despite Halt On Salad Mix Production
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
US health officials have continued their investigation into the root cause of a Cyclospora outbreak that has so far infected more than 575 people across 19 US states. However, while infections from two states have been traced back to a salad packer in Mexico, more people are continuing to get sick in other states around the country.
According to an August 15 update by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cyclosporiasis, an infection caused by the single-celled parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis, has infected 576 people in 19 states. In Iowa and Nebraska, where prepackaged salad mix has been confirmed as a source of infection, no new illnesses had been reported since the beginning of July.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed last week salad mix packaged by Taylor Farms de Mexico was the cause of infection in illnesses reported in both Iowa and Nebraska. Both state health departments have since reported all contaminated product is now out of the consumer system.
The FDA has continued to investigate illness outbreaks in other states and has yet to find a reliable source of infection in those outbreaks.
Of all reported cases of infection, only 9 percent (36 individuals) have so far been hospitalized as a result of this stomach bug, which causes flu like symptoms including nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, body aches and fever.
According to CDC data, the following states have been affected with cyclosporiasis: Arkansas (10 cases), California (1), Connecticut (1), Florida (29), Georgia (4), Illinois (11), Iowa (153), Kansas (4), Louisiana (3), Minnesota (2), Missouri (4), Nebraska (86), New Hampshire (1), New Jersey (2), New York (7), Ohio (2), Texas (240), Virginia (2) and Wisconsin (14).
According to FoodSafetyNews.com, case counts had increased an additional 20 illnesses by Saturday, with two new reported cases surfacing in Iowa. It is still too early to tell if the new Iowa cases are linked to salad mix or perhaps a similar source that has infected people in other states. Texas has climbed from 240 cases to 258 as of Saturday, according to the news site, citing information taken from both the CDC and state health departments.
Previous outbreaks of Cyclospora have typically been caused by contaminated produce. While it can generally make people quite ill, it is usually not life-threatening.
“On the infectious disease scale, this ranks well below the more notorious and dangerous ailments like E. coli and salmonella,” Dr. Lewis Marshall Jr., chairman of the outpatient services at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in New York City, said in an interview with HealthDay reporter Dennis Thompson.
“It is unlikely to be fatal, but certainly can make one’s life miserable,” he added. “Symptoms include crampy abdominal pain, watery diarrhea, loss of appetite, bloating, nausea, fatigue, fever, headache and body aches.”
Most people who are infected can have diarrhea that seems to last for days; it generally takes about a week for people who are infected to become ill. Most healthy people can fight off the infection easily, but some cases can linger for weeks or months without medical intervention.
Marshall noted there could be more cases out there than what is being reported. It is very possible “that most occurrences go unreported, as many people wouldn’t recognize the symptoms as any different than a common stomach bug,” he said.
Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, urges anyone who has suffered from diarrhea for more than a few days to be tested for cyclosporiasis.
With most illnesses of Cyclospora stemming from produce, there are ways to avoid becoming infected altogether. Washing fruit and vegetables before consumption will help, but people should always wash their hands thoroughly before and after handling food to really reduce the likelihood of an infection from occurring.
The rule of washing your fruits and vegetables also applies to prepackaged salad mixes, argues Dr. Salvatore Pardo, vice chairman of the emergency department at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York.
“My hunch is the public does not [wash their] ‘prepackaged’ salad, which is normally purchased for convenience and dumped into the bowl since it tends to be free from particles — dirt, sand, critters — one would normally find in locally picked ingredients,” Pardo told HealthDay.