Foreign Parasite Infects 80 People in Iowa and Nebraska

Foreign Parasite Infects 80 People in Iowa and Nebraska

An outbreak of cyclospora infection was reported in Iowa and Nebraska.  The parasite which is uncommon in the U.S. has infected 45 people in Iowa and 35 in Nebraska.

Cyclospora is a microscopic parasite which usually affects the intestinal tract and causes diarrhea. Left untreated, it can cause an average of 57 days of diarrhea. Two people in Iowa were hospitalized because of dehydration.  One was released on Friday, while the other is still hospitalized.

According to a report by Public Health Investigators, fresh vegetables are probably the source of the rare parasite which has caused severe diarrhea in dozens of Iowans.

They did not specify a vegetable but stated that the cyclospora contamination more than likely came from one particular vegetable shipped from a single farm, more than likely, outside of Iowa.

Iowa has never experienced an outbreak from cyclospora that affected so many people, by Friday Iowa had 45 reports of illness from the contamination.  Nebraska had 35 reports of illness from the parasite.

The Clinical Services Manager for the Linn County Health Department, Barbara Chadwick said, “this one’s got our attention.”

Investigators have interviewed patients attempting to identify what they may have eaten that caused the outbreak, but it is complicated because it can take a week or two after ingestion for any signs of cyclospora infection to show up and most people do not remember what they have eaten over that span of time.

Meanwhile, officials are urging everyone to thoroughly wash their fruits and vegetables.

“We’re not just talking about running them under some water and giving them a little pat,” Chadwick said. “It’s about soaking them and giving them a good scrubbing.”

Cyclospora can be difficult to wash off, but cooking vegetables would kill the parasite.

Authorities believe the source of the contamination came from a commercially sold produce not a home garden.

Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, Medical Director for Iowa Department of Public Health stated that in 20 years Iowa had only 10 reports of cyclospora cases until the recent outbreak.

Quinlisk also stated that she did not want to discourage people from eating vegetables because the health benefits far outweigh the risks.

“We’re looking at very, very commonly eaten foods this time of year,” she said. “You ask people if they’ve eaten it, and almost everybody answers yes.”

Iowa State Department of Inspections and Appeals are tracking food suppliers to attempt to identify the source of the contamination.  The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are also assisting in the investigation.

According to Steve Mandemach, Food and Safety Chief for the Department of Inspections and Appeals, it is unlikely that the contamination came from an Iowa farm.

“There’s not a whole lot of fresh vegetables out there yet from Iowa,” he said. “It’s possible the tainted produce came from outside the country,” he said, “though that has not been established.”

He furthered stated that the shelf life of fresh produce is short and that by now the source of the cyclospora contamination has been sold out.

By: Veverly Edwards

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