While contaminated salad served at Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants may be responsible for cyclosporiasis infections in Iowa and Nebraska, federal and state health officials now indicate that the same salad mixes are not connected to infections reported in Texas, which is the state hardest hit by a nationwide cyclospora outbreak that has sickened more than 600 people in 22 states.
Health investigators say that this week they have confirmed suspicions held by experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which have suggested that the illness are not part of a single nationwide outbreak, but rather that there are two or more outbreaks occurring at the same time.
While cyclospora food poisoning illnesess in Nebraska and Iowa may have been caused by tainted salad mixes produced by Taylor Farms in Mexico, illnesses in Texas are unrelated. Taylor Farms has previously denied that their products were served at Olive Garden or Red Lobster restaurants in Texas.
At least 610 cyclosporiasis infections have been reported nationwide over the past three, with at least 283 occurring in Texas.
Health investigators at the state and local level nationwide have been trying to determine the source of the outbreak for weeks to no avail. Investigators in Nebraska and Iowa say illnesses in those two states were caused by Taylor Farms salad mixes served at Olive Gardens and Red Lobster restaurants,
On August 25, the FDA gave Taylor Farms approval to begin operations again after determining the facility’s products were clear of contamination and that it was meeting safe food production requirements. The facility had been shut down since August 12.
“The preliminary analysis of results from an investigation into a cluster of cases that ate at a Texas restaurant does not show a connection to Taylor Farms de Mexico. This investigation is ongoing,” the CDC announced in a recent outbreak update. “Although the investigation of cases continues, available evidence suggests that not all of the cases of cyclosporiasis in the various states are directly related to each other.”
Cyclospora is a single-cell parasitical organism, which is usually spread through contaminated fresh produce or through drinking water. However, the CDC advised consumers nationwide not to shy away from eating fresh produce in fear of contracting the illness. The agency advised that the health benefits of fresh produce far outweigh the small risk of cyclospora food poisoning.
Among the illnesses reported, only 43 cases involved hospitalizations and there have been no reported deaths.
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.