Federal health officials warn that cases of Cyclospora food poisoning have dramatically increased in recent years, largely driven by two large outbreaks involving produce distributed nationwide.
According to a U.S. Centers for Disease Conrol and Prevention (CDC) report released on September 18, there have been nearly 2,200 cases of cyclospora reported so far in 2018, with about one-third of those food poisoning cases stemming from contamianted vegatable trays and salads distributed in the mid-west United States.
To date, the CDC indicates there are 2,173 lab-confirmed Cylcospora food poisoning cases across 33 states, with most of the illnesses occurring between May and August. At least 150 of the illnesses were serious enough to result in hospitalizations.
Comparatively, in 2017, there were 1,065 lab-confirmed cases of Cyclospora for the entire year. In 2016, there were even fewer cases, with only 384 lab-confirmed cases of Cyclospora.
In an accompanying statement, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicated it continues to be vigilant in identifying food poisoning outbreaks. However, the increase in Cyclospora cases in the U.S. this year is due to several reasons.
More people are getting sick, but awareness of the illness has also become more prevalent. In addition, lab testing for Cylclospora has been expanded in recent years, which helps identify the foodborne illnesses.
“Over time, the FDA has increased its surveillance sampling efforts,” FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb stated in the press release. “We’ve also advanced new technology for pursuing these efforts and expanded the list of foodborne pathogens that the FDA monitors. The availability of new testing methods for Cyclospora played an important role in helping the FDA identify a number of positive samples this summer.”
This year’s Cyclospora illnesses were largely attributed to two multistate outbreaks linked to produce, including basil, cilantro, lettuce, raspberries, and snow peas.
The first outbreak was linked to tainted Del Monte vegetable trays, which sickened at least 250 people. The outbreak was involved prepackaged vegetable trays contained broccoli, cauliflower and carrots that were distributed throughout the mid-west.
The second outbreak sickened more than 500 people in 16 states, which was linked to tainted McDonald’s salads, which contained carrots, romaine, spinach, kale, and red leaf lettuce.
Cyclospora is caused by Cyclospora cayetanensis, a single celled parasite which causes an intestinal infection. It is spread through human waste and can cause symptoms like loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach cramps, nausea, and fatigue. In some cases, the symptoms may become severe and lead to vomiting, body aches, fever, and other flu-like symptoms.
While Cyclospora rarely leads to death, the infection can last for several days to a few months, often recurring after the patient seems better.
“The U.S. has one of the safest food supplies in the world. But we also recognize that there is more that we can do when we have new findings like we’ve see with Cyclospora,” Gottlieb said. “New risks will continue to emerge. Our system needs to be rigorous, nimble, and proactive in order to confront new challenges.”