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Parasite Outbreak Infects Dozens Across Texas, Source Still Unknown

Jul 05, 2018 05:19 PM EDT
A Texas outbreak of cyclosporiasis has hit the state hard with 56 individuals already getting sick. State health officials said past outbreaks in Texas were associated with cilantro.
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A parasite outbreak has already sickened a total of 56 people all across Texas. Health officials are still investigating the flare-up.

Behind this sudden onset of illnesses in the state is the parasite Cyclospora, which causes the intestinal infection cyclosporiasis. The main symptom of the ailment is watery diarrhea.

A Texas Outbreak

An official report from the Texas Department of State Health Services revealed that there are a total of 56 confirmed individuals affected with the parasite.

Sixteen of the infected people are from Travis County, a bigger chunk than what's found in any other infected county, according to KXAN, while Bexar County has 11 cases. However, scientists caution that this number might be a conservative estimate. In 2017, there were 319 cases of cyclosporiasis in Texas.

"There could easily be 10 times more than that that aren't getting diagnosed," explains Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. "This has been pretty much a recurring theme lately here in the US, pretty regular outbreaks mostly from imported fruits and vegetables, mostly coming from Latin America."

The state's health department reveals that past outbreaks of cyclosporiasis in the United States were found to be related to imported fresh produce such as pre-packaged salad mix, raspberries, basil, snow peas, and mesclun greens. Cilantro has been linked to flare-ups in Texas.

Health officials are currently investigating the ongoing cases, as well as tracing the source of the parasite.

About Cyclosporiasis

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that people can contract cyclosporiasis by consuming food or water contaminated with the microscopic parasite Cyclospora. Particularly, travelers who are visiting countries where the infection is common are at risk.

While the most common symptom is watery diarrhea, there are other symptoms that accompany the illness such as loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach pain, gassiness, bloating, nausea, and fatigue. Flu-like symptoms such as fever and vomiting may also arise. However, there are people who are infected by Cyclospora but don't display any symptoms.

Cyclosporiasis can last from a few days to a month or even longer. Treatment is often antibiotics, along with rest and plenty of water for those experiencing diarrhea.

Some of DSHS tips to keep from getting sick from the outbreak include thorough washing of fresh produce, although this isn't a sure-fire way to avoid the disease since this specific parasite is difficult to wash off. Cooking will kill it, though.

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