Cyclosporiasis Outbreak Linked to Cilantro Sickens 300 People: CDC

Federal health officials suspect that tainted cilantro imported from Mexico may be the cause of a food poisoning outbreak that has sickened more than 300 people nationwide with cyclospora infections. 

A nationwide cyclosporiasis outbreak has spread across 19 states, after beginning with 133 confirmed cases in Texas identified last week.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are partnering to investigate reports of illnesses linked to cilantro, which appears to be very similar to an outbreak that occurred two years ago.

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Reports of cyclospora food poisoning have been confirmed in Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Washington.

Texas patients infected by cyclospora reported eating food containing fresh cilantro in the two to 14 days prior to becoming ill from four different restaurants. These four restaurants received deliveries of cilantro from suppliers in Puebla, Mexico.

At least four people affected by the outbreak have required hospitalization in Texas, with another three also needing hospitalization in other states.

There is no evidence yet linking the illnesses outside of Texas to the cilantro from Puebla, Mexico suppliers. However, a similar cyclospora food poisoning outbreak occurred in the fall of 2013, starting with cilantro imported to Texas from Mexico. That outbbreak ultimately sickening more than 600 people nationwide, and was also tracked to Puebla, Mexico cilantro farms.

The FDA has increased surveillance sampling of cilantro imported from companies implicated in the outbreak in Puebla, Mexico. The agency is also working with Mexican authorities to determine if a common farm or a growing area in Puebla could have provided fresh cilantro linked to the outbreak.

Nearly 65% of the people infected by the outbreak are from Texas and reported the onset of symptoms in July, but many also experienced onset dates in June as well. No deaths have been attributed to the outbreak. It has affected patients aged three to 88.

Authorities indicate that it is likely the outbreak has ended in Texas and cases of cyclosporiasis have returned to baseline levels in August. However, the investigations are ongoing in other states.

Cyclospora Infections

Cyclospora cayetanensis is a single celled parasite which causes intestinal infection called cyclosporiasis. The parasite is too small to be seen without a microscope.

It is acquired when people eat or drink something contaminated with the parasite. However, the parasite needs time before it can infect another person, typically days to weeks after a bowel movement. Therefore, it is unlikely that Cyclospora is passed directly from one person to another.

Infected persons become sick within about one week. Typical symptoms include watery diarrhea, with frequent explosive movements. Other common symptoms include loss of appetite, stomach cramps, increased gas, nausea and fatigue. Flu-like symptoms are also very common, including vomiting, body aches, fever and headaches.

If left untreated the illness may linger for days to a month or longer. They often seem to go away but will return many times.

Consumers can avoid infection by washing hands and utensils with hot, soapy water before and after handling food. Fresh produce should be thoroughly washed before eaten.


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