Cyclospora outbreak enters North Texas


by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist JOHN FISHER and editor ROB DIAZ

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Posted on July 22, 2013 at 7:34 AM

Updated Monday, Jul 22 at 7:40 AM

AUSTIN -- A parasitic outbreak that started in the Midwest has made its way into North Texas. There are not yet any reported cases in Central Texas.

Cyclospora is a microscopic parasite. "It attacks your digestive system and actually infects the cells that line your small intestine," said Ken Mitchell, M.D., the chief medical officer at St. David's North Austin Medical Center.

Cyclospora is a food-born parasite mostly found in fruits and vegetables, but it can also show up in contaminated drinking water, even a swimming pool. It doesn't take many parasites to infect you.

"If you're exposed to somewhere between one to10 parasites, it's very likely you're going to get a symptomatic infection," said Mitchell.

Mitchell says it takes about a week or two after exposure for cyclospora to make you sick.

"If you do contract the cyclospora the most common kind of hallmark symptom is really bad diarrhea," said Mitchell.

There are other symptoms. "That could be a loss of appetite, nausea, sometimes vomiting, some cramping in the abdomen and sometimes some low grade fever," he said.

Mitchell says there are 37 cases of cyclospora reported statewide as of last week. Almost all of those cases were in North Texas.  

"We've not seen any uptick in infections here in Central Texas," said Mitchell.

Still, he says it's always a good idea to wash fresh fruit and vegetables as well as your hands. He says cyclospora is something that can be transmitted from person to person.

"The good news is that it's very easily treated with a common antibiotic -- a sulfa drug," said Mitchell.
Recently listeria turned up in certain cheeses. Mitchell says listeria is a bacteria not a parasite. While people with a healthy immune system should be able to recover on their own from cyclospora, Mitchell says those most at risk are young children, the elderly, and people with other illnesses that may have weakened their immune systems.