Prepackaged bags of salad mixes have been identified as the potential source of a parasite-based illness that has sickened hundreds of people.
Health officials in Nebraska and Iowa have determined that a cyclospora outbreak, which has caused at least 372 people in 15 different states to become ill, may be linked to bagged salad mixes that include iceberg and romaine lettuce, red cabbage, and carrots. The specific brands that may be involved have not yet been identified.
The two states have been hit hard by the outbreak, with 145 of the illnesses occurring in Iowa and another 78 in Nebraska. Nationwide at least 21 people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been linked to the outbreak.
Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say it is not clear whether all of the cyclospora cases have a single source and are still working to determine a cause. There may be more than one outbreak occurring, CDC officials warned in an outbreak update issued Wednesday.
According to the CDC, most of the victims became ill in June or July and had no history of travel outside of the U.S. or Canada during the two weeks before they got the infection.
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. The CDC reports that in most previous cases cyclospora outbreaks were linked to fresh produce.
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.