Illness onset dates suggest outbreak source gone
The Iowa Department of Public Health continues to receive reports of confirmed cases of Cyclospora infection, but officials think, because of the limited shelf life of fresh produce, the source of the outbreak has already been consumed or discarded.
The onset dates of the illness suggest ill people had eaten the contaminated food in mid-June, according to the IDPH.
“We know fresh produce [fruits and vegetables] has been implicated in previous Cyclospora outbreaks, and interviews with those who have been ill indicate vegetables were probably the source of this outbreak,” said IDPH Medical Director Patricia Quinlisk.
“The illness onset dates, coupled with the shelf life of fresh produce, make it very likely the vegetable that was the source of the outbreak has already been eaten or thrown away and will not cause anyone else to become ill,” Quinlisk continued.
Officials said at no time was an Iowa-grown fruit or vegetable suspected to be the cause of the outbreak, but the investigation is ongoing to ensure no continuing exposure to contaminated food and to try to understand how the food became contaminated in the first place.
IDPH encourages Iowans to make fruits and vegetables part of their daily diet and says it is always a good idea to wash all fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating.
Jefferson County Public Health Director Chris Estle said the IDPH’s EPI manual “Guide to Surveillance, Investigation, and Reporting” does not include any information about cooking the produce or boiling water to kill the parasite.
“It just comes back to being healthy when working with foods, washing your hands and following food safety protocols,” Estle said.
As of Tuesday, 81 cases of Cyclospora infections had been reported to IDPH, including one in Van Buren County and one in Keokuk County.
Linn County has reported the most cases, with 31, and Polk and Pottawattamie counties follow with five cases each and Black Hawk County has four. The remaining 19 reporting counties each have three or fewer cases.
Estle said no cases in Jefferson County had been reported to her as of this morning.
At least five people have been hospitalized. Many people report still being ill with diarrhea and some have had relapses.
Estle said many gastrointestinal tract infections have the same symptoms, and suggested if someone has had diarrhea for more than a couple of days, he or she visit their health care provider.
A specific laboratory test on a stool sample is used to identify the illness, and specific treatment, which is not typically used for more common diarrheal illnesses, is available, she said.
People become infected with Cyclospora by consuming food or water contaminated with the parasite, which causes a watery diarrhea that lasts an average of 57 days if untreated. Symptoms include: watery diarrhea, severe tiredness, loss of appetite, weight loss, bloating, increased gas, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches and low-grade fever.
For information, visit www.idph.state.ia.us/EHI/Issue.aspx?issue=Cyclospora Outbreak Investigation.