September 21, 2023

Outbreak of Cyclospora in Texas

The Tarrant County Public Health Department (TCPH) announced on their Facebook page that there is an outbreak of Cyclospora that has sickened at least 69 people in northern Texas within the last month. Reports of this illness always increase in the summer, but this news comes almost a year to the day when a huge cyclosporiasis outbreak sickened at least 631 people in 25 states. Most of those illnesses were linked to contaminated produce that was imported from Mexico.

cyclospora-outbreak-384Public health officials are encouraging healthcare providers to test patients for cyclosporiasis if they have diarrhea that lasts more than a few days, or diarrhea that is accompanied by weight loss, loss of appetite, or fatigue. Nine cases have been reported to TCPH this month; the county has only had one case since January 2014.

The symptoms of a Cyclospora infection begin two to 14 days after exposure to the contaminated food or water. People can be sick for weeks or months, and the illness may reoccur without warning. Other symptoms include weight loss, loss of appetite, fever, abdominal cramps, bloating, gas, nausea, and vomiting.

Consumers are urged to wash all fresh produce carefully, but TCPH Chief Epidemiologist Russell Jones said in a statement, “Cyclospora can be difficult to wash off all types of produce. To reduce your risk, we recommend thoroughly washing produce before consumption. Produce that is cooked is not a concern.” The parasite is killed by cooking temperatures.

The parasite can remain in planting fields over the winter, and then will re-contaminate plants when the new planting and harvesting season begins. That happened with Guatemalan raspberries in 1996 – 1997. Other Cyclospora outbreaks in the U.S. have been linked to fresh cilantro, salad mixes, raspberries, snow peas, basil, and mesclun lettuce.

Last year’s outbreak was never completely solved, and this may be a continuation of that swath of illnesses, but no one knows yet. No common source has been identified for this outbreak as of today.  It can be difficult to remove the parasite from fruits and vegetables, especially if they have rough skins. Cooking will destroy the parasite. Public health officials have launched an investigation to identify possible causes for this outbreak.

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