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Parasite Infects 250 People From Six States, Investigations Underway

Update Date: Jul 24, 2013 09:44 AM EDT

The Midwest is currently dealing with a potentially dangerous parasite that has already infected over 250 people. Although the source of the parasite, cyclospora, is unknown, federal health officials believe that it originated from fresh produce that was being shipped between the states. So far, six states have been affected with only eight hospitalizations. Although the infection does not seem to be too fatal, the rate that the infection is spreading at is relatively fast. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating the outbreak.

"Nothing has been implicated yet in a formal sense," Dr. Barbara Herwaldt said according to NBC News. Herwaldt is a medical epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) division of parasitic diseases and malaria centers. "No food item has been identified as the source of the outbreak."

The infection was first reported around mid-June through to July in Iowa, with at least 118 cases. Nearby state, Nebraska was also affected by the cyclospora infection around the same time recording 68 cases. The other states that are currently dealing with this infection are Texas with 65 cases, Wisconsin with four cases, and Illinois and Kansas with one case each. According to CDC, there have been eight hospitalizations.

Health officials from these states believe that there might be more than one source of produce that caused the outbreak based on the interviews with the infected people. Officials also believe that the source or sources could have come from imported produce. There has been no known natural source of cyclospora in the U.S. and based on previous CDC records, the other outbreaks in 1996 and 1997 occurred due to imported fruits.

Cyclospora is a microscopic parasite that is made up of just one cell. When it infects people through food or water contamination, it causes intestinal infection characterized by watery and explosive diarrhea, increased gas, stomach cramps, loss of appetite, bloating, nausea and fatigue. Cyclospora requires time, which can range from days to weeks, to clear from the body through bowel movements. The FDA and CDC recommend that people wash their hands and scrub their fresh produce before consumption to lower their risk of infection. The government agencies and federal health officials hope that this outbreak will start to dwindle down but are still unsure.

"What we don't know yet is whether the transmission or spread of the parasite is ongoing," Herwaldt said. 

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