Tarrant County health officials are now investigating 28 cases of a nasty stomach ailment that has infected 353 people in 15 states.The Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration along with state and local officials have not determined the cause of an outbreak of cyclosporiasis which has previously been linked to fresh produce and water contaminated by feces.The intestinal infection can cause severe diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and fatigue. The illness, which is caused by a microscopic parasite, does not appear to be spread through direct person-to-person contact, health officials say.The infection, which commonly occurs in tropical and subtropical regions, can be treated with antibiotics. The number of Tarrant County cases has more than doubled in a week and the number of cases in Texas has jumped from 75 to 92, according to the CDC.The outbreak has been most severe in Iowa where there have been 140 cases reported. Seventy-one cases have been reported in Nebraska and 24 have been identified in Florida, according to the CDC.“There is no culprit that we have determined as a cause,” Vanassa Joseph, a spokesperson for the Tarrant County Public Health Department, said Monday.“Our disease investigators check with each of the individuals. They looking at what the person might have eaten or where they might have traveled. They ask about other members of the household,” she said.The CDC said at least 21 people reportedly have been hospitalized by the illness.At the first signs of a cyclosporiasis infection, people usually think they’ve contracted a common stomach ailment, according to Dr. Sandra Parker, medical director of for the Tarrant health department.“The 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,” Parker said last week.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