Spike in rare foodborne illness may be linked to outbreak in Midwest

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by MATT GOODMAN / WFAA

WFAA

Posted on July 16, 2013 at 1:01 PM

DALLAS –– Dallas County epidemiologists fear that an unusual spike in cases of the foodborne illness cyclosporiasis may be linked to an outbreak that has sickened more than 100 people in Nebraska and Iowa. 

According to a memo sent on Tuesday from the county’s Department of Health and Human Services to medical providers, eight cases of cyclospora infection have been diagnosed within the past week in Dallas County. In the past 12 years, just 12 people have been diagnosed with it here. 

Cyclospora is a parasite that can infect food and water. According to the Centers for Disease Control, symptoms usually begin after about a week of exposure and typically last for two days up to two weeks. In extreme cases, those who catch the illness can suffer symptoms for up two months. 

The CDC says common symptoms are diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, cramping, bloating, increased gas, nausea and fatigue. Typically, the rare parasite is found on imported fresh fruits and vegetables that were not cleaned properly before being eaten. 

Quoting from Dallas County’s memo, “DCHHS is encouraging medical providers to consider testing patients for Cyclospora if they have diarrheal illness lasting more than a couple days or diarrhea accompanied by severe anorexia or fatigue.” 

An outbreak in Iowa and Nebraska has sickened 124 people so far this year. Iowa’s Department of Health and Human Services issued a fact sheet Tuesday morning saying 71 residents have been diagnosed with the illness. Nebraska, meanwhile, has logged 53 cases

The cases are rapidly increasing, according to the Associated Press. Nebraska's cases have more than doubled in less than a week while those in Iowa have tripled. While Dallas County’s incidences have not been formally linked with the outbreak in the Midwest, the memo expresses concern that they are. 

“Increased numbers of Cyclospora cases are also currently being noted elsewhere in Texas and may possibly be related to an ongoing large multistate Cyclospora outbreak in Iowa and Nebraska,” it reads. 

Residents suffering any of the symptoms are asked to visit their medical provider. Cyclosporiasis is typically treated with an antibiotic taken twice a day for seven to 10 days. 

“Thorough washing of fresh produce is recommended, but may not eliminate the risk of transmission since Cyclospora can be difficult to wash off all types of produce,” the county memo says. “Infection is generally not transmitted directly from person-to-person.”

According to the Lincoln Journal Star, other cases have also been reported in Kansas, Wisconsin and Illinois. 

News 8's Janet St. James contributed to this report

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