By: Irvin Jackson | Published: July 23rd, 2013
An outbreak of parasitic infections has sickened at least 250 people across the Midwest, as federal and state health officials continue to search for the cause of the outbreak.
Illnesses associated with the parasite Cyclospora have been linked to at least eight hospitalizations and infections among residents of Iowa, Texas, Nebraska, Illinois, Wisconsin and Kansas.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has launched a Cyclospora outbreak website, indicating that the illnesses first came to the agency’s attention on June 28, when two laboratory confirmed cases were identified among Iowa residents.
Of the states where cases have been identified, Iowa has been hit the hardest, with 118 confirmed Cyclospora infections.
Investigators have yet to track the infections back to a common source, but previous Cyclospora outbreaks have been linked to fresh produce. The bug is usually found in tropical or subtropical regions and travels to the U.S. and Canada via produce from those regions. The CDC is working with the FDA and state agencies to attempt to identify the cause of the outbreak.
Cyclospora cayetanensis is a parasite that can cause an intestinal illness known as Cyclosporiasis. The parasite is spread typically by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water.
Victims typically experience illness for about a week with symptoms that include watery diarrhea, frequent, sometimes explosive, bowel movements, loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach pains, bloating, increased gas, nausea and fatigue. The CDC warns that infected persons also sometimes experience vomiting, body aches, headaches, fever and other symptoms that could be mistaken for the flu. However, some people infected with the parasite develop no symptoms.
The ailment is often treated with sulfa-based antibiotics, like Bactrim, Septra and Cotrim. The CDC warns that there are no alternative recommended treatments for patients who are allergic to sulfa drugs. The CDC also recommends victims get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids.
Individuals who suspect they may have experienced illness associated with the Cyclospora outbreak should seek immediate medical treatment, and contact local infectious disease officials.