The ongoing multi-state cyclospora outbreak that has sickened hundreds is being blamed, in part, on bagged salads, officials say.
A pre-packaged salad mix comprised of iceberg and romaine lettuce, as well as red cabbage and carrots, appears to be contaminated with the rare parasite, according to CNN. About 350 Illness reports have been received in at least 15 states, according to the LA Times with Iowa reporting the most illnesses and Nebraska seeing new reports on a daily basis, according to CNN.
Officials in Nebraska say that the pre-packaged produce was pre-washed, according to CNN. An investigation into where the bagged lettuce was sold and under what brand, is underway. Meanwhile, the alert issued in Nebraska indicated that the bagged produce “came through national distribution channels” and that “locally grown produce is not part of this outbreak.”
In Iowa, according to CNN, authorities determined that most—80 percent—of those who fell ill reported having consumed pre-packaged salad; however, the allegedly tainted produce was not on store shelves by the time investigators were advised. Because of this, Steven Mandernach, Iowa’s head of food and consumer safety bureau told CNN, “Iowans should continue eating salads as the implicated prepackaged salad mix is no longer in the state’s food supply chain.”
CNN reported that 122 cases of cyclospora poisoning have been reported in Texas and a total of 178 have been sickened in Iowa and Nebraska. No cause has been determined for the Texas outbreak. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that cases have also been reported in Florida, Wisconsin, Illinois, Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio, according to the LA Times.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating the intestinal infection; the CDC and local and state officials are also looking at the outbreak, according to Reuters. The FDA stated that it remains unclear if all of the illnesses are related to the same outbreak.
People can remain ill with cyclosporiasis, which is caused by the rare cyclospora parasite, for about two months. The food borne illness causes symptoms such as watery diarrhea, appetite and weight loss, cramps, bloating, gas, nausea, and fatigue. The disease can also lead to vomiting and low-grade fever in some cases, according to the CDC. CBS News points out that the diarrhea could last nearly 60 days without treatment, which is typically the combination antibiotic trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole.
Prior to 1996, cyclospora illnesses were only reported in people who traveled to developing countries or who suffered from weakened immune systems, according to the Mayo Clinic, CBS News reported. Even then, the cases were infrequent. Since 1995, lettuce, fresh basil, and imported raspberries have been blamed in North American cyclosporiasis outbreaks, the Mayo Clinic reports, noting that scrupulous washing cannot always eliminate the parasite.
Cyclosporiasis is caused by ingesting food or water contaminated with a microscopic one-celled parasite, according to Reuters, and is more commonly seen in the world’s tropical and subtropical regions.