More than 250 people in at least six states, including 75 in Texas and 11 in Tarrant County, have been hit with a nasty stomach bug that may be linked to a food-borne illness.The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control along with state and local health officials are investigating an outbreak of cyclospora infections that previously have been linked to fresh produce and water contaminated by feces. The illness, which is caused by a microscopic parasite, does not appear to be spread through direct person-to-person contact, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. There were 49 cases of cyclosporiasis reported in Texas from 2001 to 2011 but there were 44 in 2012, according to the agency.The intestinal infection called cyclosporiasis can cause severe diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and fatigue, said Dr. Sandra Parker, medical director for the Tarrant County Public Health Department. The good news is that the infection, which more commonly occurs in tropical and subtropical regions, can be treated with antibiotics, she said.Typically, we only see a few cases of cyclosporiasis every year. This is something different for us in this amount of cases. Weve never seen it clustered like this, she said.In the past, outbreaks have been associated with eating fresh produce that have been contaminated by the organism. But as of yet, we havent been able to identify that source, Parker said.The CDC said at least 10 people have reportedly been hospitalized by the illness. No common events like social gatherings have been identified in the infections of people in Texas, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Connecticut. Illinois and Kansas have also notified the CDC of one case each that may have been acquired out of state.Most of the illnesses occurred between mid-June and mid-July, the CDC said.At the first signs of a cyclosporiasis infection, most people think its a common stomach bug, Parker saidThe difference with this is that the symptoms may seem like they get better and then they come back. Then they can persist, they can wax and wane; especially if left untreated you can experience these symptoms for approximately six weeks, she said.The biggest danger, she said, is for people with compromised immune systems.To avoid contamination, the FDA advises that consumers should always practice safe food handling and preparation measures. Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after handling food. Fresh produce should be thoroughly washed before it is eaten.
Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981 Twitter: @stevecamp