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Cyclospora Outbreak Reaches 202 Cases; More Than Half are in Texas

Just like last summer, illnesses involving prolonged watery diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms caused by the parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis are spreading across the country from Texas. Public health officials suspect the parasite is riding into the United States on contaminated fresh produce grown in Mexico for the U.S. market. They just don’t yet know the exact source, where it’s grown, and how it’s being distributed here.

During the past week, the outbreak has expanded by several states, with the number of confirmed cases growing to 202, up from the 61 illnesses reported nationally as recently as July 23.  With 110 illnesses, the Lone Star State accounts for more than half of the nation’s current cases, with illnesses being reported in 29 of the 254 counties in Texas.

“Though a source has yet to be identified, past outbreaks have been traced to fresh imported produce,” the Texas Department of State Health Services said. “DSHS encourages people to wash produce thoroughly, though that may not entirely eliminate the risk because Cyclospora can be difficult to wash off.”

Last summer, a June-peaking national outbreak of Cyclosporiasis ultimately saw 631 people sickened in 25 states. Last year’s Cyclospora outbreak caused some confusion and contention among the state’s investigating it. Iowa and Nebraska thought the infections were caused by bagged mixed salads served by restaurants, while Texas officials named fresh cilantro grown in Puebla, Mexico.

This year, interviews conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have attributed about 25 illnesses to foreign travel. Before last summer, Cyclospora outbreaks from food or water sources in the U.S. have been sporadic since imported raspberries arrived here two decades ago.

Carried by food or water contaminated by feces, the illness is cause by a parasite that’s common in tropical or subtropical counties. The onset of illness typically occurs within two to 14 days after the oocytes are consumed. It results in profuse diarrhea that can last for a couple weeks to several months. Other symptoms are a low-grade fever, nausea and vomiting, bloating and gas, anorexia and fatigue.

© Food Safety News
  • wondering

    I would imagine the best way to combat this would be to try and prevent your crop from coming in contact with feces.

    However if a grower wanted to take extra precautionary steps, is there anything they can apply before harvest that would target cyclospora and other similar parasites that may end up on the crop?

    • welthatsme

      Mexico, get it? Water plants with sewage, don’t wash plants before shipping, plants also may have feces from birds having flown and crapped on produce in fields or on uncogered trucks etc. Before scoffing at this comment, look at the topside of your vehicle in your driveway or parking lot. Big companies don’t want to spend lots of money keeping your food clean and safe.

      • Wondering

        You have everything ass backwards.

        I asked if there is any chemical that can be applied close to harvest that would target cyclospora and not jeopardize the marketability of the produce?

        You have a flawed outlook on Mexican agriculture and have fallen victim to the “American’s do it best just because” syndrome. Before you scoff at my comment, actually read it please.

        Mexico’s primary market is the U.S., and it is a well known fact that the FDA/USDA are stricter on imported produce then they are on domestically grown produce. This has lead to the Mexican producers to in some cases become far more modern in terms of food safety then probably 90% of U.S. Farms, because they face a higher probability of being inspected.

        Most companies importing into the U.S. always test their product. It is far less money for a simple laboratory screen then it would be to try and remove your company from the FDA’s “Detention Without physical examination list”. Not to mention all the bad press and reputation they would get. Thats why imported produce is almost gurreenteed to have been tested at some point.

        Domestically grown and sold produce, I can almost guarantee you that less then 1% is tested, unless they thought it was for export but end up keeping it domestic. This is because U.S. growers face more scrutiny from foreign regulatory bodies then they do from the FDA/USDA.

        They have to go through audits in Mexico as well. So trust me I doubt anyone is watering their field with sewage water, and if they were it wouldn’t make it to past the farmers market.

        Cycospora is not prevalent in the U.S. because of the climate is not tropical enough, otherwise we would have the same issues, so dont act all high and mighty.

        Those big companies happen to do an excellent job, they can not afford to screw up, and they can afford to hire experts. Its the small guys that pose the most risk, 90% of risk is from 10% of the growers. They are the growers that don’t test their fruit before whole foods sells it as “organic pesticide free” for double the price.

        Any field is susceptible to animal feces, some more then others if your next to a cattle ranch or something, but bird shit risk is the same in Mexico as it is domestically.

        I just want to know if anyone has any ideas how to mitigate the parasite risk whether or not your field was contaminated, but as a precautionary step.

        • Jenna

          I would question the idea that FDA is more strict on imported produce than domestically grown produce. Even if they were, that doesn’t mean they are inspecting very many foreign produce farms.. it just means the ones they do get to get a good inspection. They are understaffed and it is physically impossible to inspect as many foreign food producers as is needed. Produce safety regulation is on the rise, however, and more and more produce farms (foreign and domestic) will be subject to audits and regulation in the near future.
          I don’t want to imply that irrigating with “sewage water” is a common practice in Mexico, but it is not outlandish to suggest that irrigating with contaminated water is not an UNcommon practice in countries with poor water / sewage sanitation programs. It is common in Mexico to put used toilet paper in trash cans instead of flushing it because their sewage systems are inadequate and do not handle the toilet paper well. Poorly dug and poorly protected wells can easily be contaminated with human or animal waste, and if they use that water to irrigate.. well that’s a problem. You know that saying “don’t drink the water”.. why do you think that is? Because there are bacteria and parasites in their drinking water.. Americans generally have potable, parasite-free water (unless their well becomes contaminated) and our bodies are not used to the crud that is in Mexico’s “potable” water.
          Keep in mind, humans are the only known reservoir for this parasite, so if the produce is contaminated with it, it is a result of contamination by human feces somewhere along the line. So while they may not be irrigating with “sewage water”, the produce was surely contaminated with human waste in one way or another.
          I am not positive, but I don’t think there are any pesticides farmers can apply to crops to target parasites (or human pathogens in general) prior to harvest. If there was, and it was reliably effective, people would be using it left and right.. and someone would be RICH.

  • hum_dinger

    And u think its only mexico that uses sewage on crops.. cute…http://vimeo.com/24854061
    Bon appetit!