Parasite outbreak in Texas, other states prompts public health investigation

HOUSTON – Texas public health officials have opened an investigation after an outbreak of clyosporiasis, an intestinal parasitic infection caused by the parasite cyclospora.

Since early May, authorities across Texas, including Greater Houston, have reported 56 cases of the disease.

“There could easily be 10 times more than that that aren’t getting diagnosed,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

“This has been pretty much a recurring theme lately here in the US, pretty regular outbreaks mostly from imported fruits and vegetables, mostly coming from Latin America,” Hotez said.

The Texas Department of State Health Services is working with local and other state health departments and others to determine the source of the outbreak.

What is cyclosporiasis?

Cyclosporiasis is an intestinal illness caused by consuming food or water contaminated with the tiny parasite cyslospora, according to DSHS.

What are the symptoms of Cyclospora?

The main symptom is watery diarrhea that can last for a few days to a few months.

Other symptoms include the following:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Bloating
  • Increased gas
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Low fever

The symptoms may come and go several times over a period of weeks or months.

Reported Cyclosporiasis case counts by counties in Texas:

  • Bexar County: 11
  • Brazoria County: 1
  • Brazos County: 1
  • Collin County: 2
  • Dallas County: 2
  • Fort Bend County: 1
  • Galveston County: 1
  • Grimes County: 1
  • Guadalupe County: 1
  • Harris County: 6
  • Hidalgo County: 5
  • Jackson County: 1
  • Kerr County: 1
  • Montgomery County: 3
  • Starr County: 1
  • Tarrant County: 1
  • Victoria County: 1
  • Waller County: 1
  • Washington County: 1

What should you do if you suspect you or someone else has the parasite?

People with the aforementioned symptoms should contact their health care provider for testing and treatment. DSHS is asking for all providers to test patients who have diarrhea lasting for a few days along with other similar symptoms.

Past outbreaks in the U.S. have been linked to freshly imported produce, such as fresh pre-packaged salad mix, raspberries, basil, snow peas and mesclun greens.

Texas has had multiple outbreaks linked to cilantro.

How to prevent contamination

DSHS recommends thoroughly washing all fresh produce, but cooking will kill the parasite.

The infection is mostly transmitted through contaminated food.

There have been more than 300 cases of cyclosporiasis in Texas in the past year.

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