By CRISTIN REECE
Officials continue to investigate the cause of this summer’s cyclospora outbreak, which has now reportedly spread to 22 states.
As of Aug. 23, 617 people, including 257 Texans — two in Smith County and one in Henderson County — have been determined to have contracted the stomach bug. Palestine Regional Medical Center officials said they have not seen any cases of the parasite in Anderson County, but that doesn’t mean locals haven’t been infected.
“Unless the symptoms are bad enough, we probably would not see them in the ER or the hospital setting,” PRMC Chief Clinical Officer Christi Watkins said in an earlier interview.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials also warn the number of reported cases could rise.
“Illnesses that occurred after July 16, 2013, might not yet have been reported because of the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported,” The CDC’s website states. “This could take up to five to six weeks.”
At least 40 people across the country have been hospitalized — no deaths have been reported in connection with the outbreak — and the source of many of these cases has yet to be determined.
“On July 30, 2013, the states of Iowa and Nebraska announced that their analysis indicated that the outbreak in those states was linked to a salad mix,” a media release published on the Federal Department of Agriculture’s website states. “To date, only the salad mix has been implicated in the outbreak of cyclosporiasis in Iowa and Nebraska.”
Health officials in Texas are interviewing patients, but they haven't linked their illnesses to salad products from Taylor Farms, Texas Department of State Health Services spokeswoman Christine Mann told ABCNews in a website publication posted earlier this month at the website, abcnews.go.com.
“The Department of State Health Services is interviewing cases — and so are local health departments — to try to figure out a common source,” she said. “At this point, we haven't determined any links.”
However, food safety officials said cases of cyclospora too rarely occur in the U.S. for the cases to be unrelated.
According to the FDA’s website, the investigation confirmed this month the tainted salad mix was supplied to restaurants, including Red Lobster and Olive Garden, in Iowa and Nebraska. The restaurants’ parent company confirmed its Texas restaurants does not use produce from Taylor Farms de Mexico. The FDA’s investigation has not implicated consumer packages sold in grocery stores.
Taylor Farms de Mexico voluntarily suspended production this month as well, and shipment of any salad mix, leafy green or salad mix components from its operations in Mexico to the U.S. This voluntary action goes beyond the implicated salad mix and includes iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, green leaf lettuce, red cabbage, green cabbage and carrots.
People become infected with Cyclospora by consuming food or water contaminated by feces. Cyclospora infects the small intestine (bowel) and can cause watery diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach cramps/pain, bloating, increased gas, nausea and fatigue.
Consumers should always practice safe food handling and preparation measures. Wash hands, utensils and surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after handling food. Fresh produce should be thoroughly washed before it is eaten.
Contact a healthcare provider if you have diarrhea that lasts for more than three days.