(RxWiki News) The parasite Cyclospora has caused illnesses in multiple states across the US this summer, and officials are still investigating how it is spreading.
It is known that this parasite is spread through contaminated food or water, but no specific source for these new cases has been pinned down.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the parasite has caused 353 cases of cyclosporiasis, or infection with Cyclospora, since June.
It is not yet clear if the illnesses are all part of one single outbreak, or if multiple outbreaks from different sources are being seen.
"Wash fresh produce thoroughly before eating."
The CDC reported that the cyclosporiasis cases have been reported in fourteen different states — Iowa, Texas, Nebraska, Florida, Wisconsin, Illinois, Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, New Jersey and Ohio — as well as in New York City. Of the 353 patients, at least 21 required hospitalization.
Iowa has experienced the most cases, with a current count of 140 infections. Texas and Nebraska are next in line, with a reported 92 infections in Texas and 71 in Nebraska.
The first cases this summer were reported in Iowa on June 28, and most people became sick between mid-June and early July. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is typically about one week between the time a patient becomes infected and when they become ill.
Cyclospora attacks the small intestines and causes symptoms like watery diarrhea, stomach pains, bloating, nausea, fatigue and loss of appetite, according to the FDA. In some cases, additional flu-like symptoms including body aches, vomiting and fever may be experienced, and in other cases, no symptoms are seen at all.
According to the FDA, untreated cyclosporiasis can last anywhere from a few days to over a month. For some patients, the symptoms may go away for a while, only to return during a relapse period.
The CDC reported that the infections are currently under investigation, and as of yet, no food items or products have been implicated. It is also currently not known if all 353 cases are stemming from a single outbreak or from multiple sources.
The CDC did note that previous outbreaks of cyclosporiasis had been tied to a variety of fresh produce.
Despite the uncertainty as officials continue to investigate possible Cyclospora sources, the FDA suggested various ways for people to help keep themselves healthy.
"Consumers should always practice safe food handling and preparation measures. Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after handling food," the FDA recommended. "Fresh produce should be thoroughly washed before it is eaten."
The FDA also recommended that anyone who experiences diarrhea for more than three days call their healthcare provider.
The FDA noted that cyclosporiasis is common in certain tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world, sometimes putting travelers at an increased risk of contracting the infection.
However, the CDC stressed that the current investigation is focusing on people who became ill while in North America.
"Cases in this outbreak are defined as laboratory-confirmed Cyclospora infection in a person who became ill in June or July, 2013, and had no history of travel outside of the United States or Canada during the 14 days prior to onset of illness," the CDC reported.
It is likely that more information will become available as the investigation continues.