AUSTIN, Texas - First reports of the Cyclosporiasis outbreak started coming into the state health department back in May.
The illness is caused by a parasite that's ingested by contaminated food or water. Images from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention DC show how it grows inside the intestines into a worm like form.
While investigators know what's causing people to get sick, Lara Anton with the Texas Department of State Health Services tells FOX7 Austin they don't know where the exposure is coming from.
"It could be at the grocery store. It could be from a restaurant. There's a variety of sources and it could be that restaurants are bringing in produce, getting it in, and it’s on that,” said Anton.
As of Tuesday morning, 56 cases were reported in 20 Texas counties. Most cases are located in Bexar, with 11, and Travis County which has 16 cases.
Past outbreaks were traced to unwashed imported produce; things like cilantro, salads, vegetables and fruit. Even raspberries recently caused a problem.
"You have to be careful, eating any fresh produce right now, you want to make sure it has been washed thoroughly, although that does not guarantee you will not get the parasite,” said Anton.
This is the 6th year the parasite has caused an outbreak in Texas according to state records. The current outbreak in Travis County is not yet as bad as what happened in previous years. In 2017 and 2016 both had 28 cases reported. In 2015, 113 people in Travis County got sick.
Ignoring the symptoms can lead to a very quick trip to the ER. Those who are most at risk are the elderly, the very young and those with a weakened immune system. It’s important to remember no one is immune.
"You know one of the things characteristic of this organism is that it can last for weeks and characteristically comes and goes so you can recover and then it will come back again,” said Dr. Philip Huang, Medical Director for Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services.
Exposure can cause different symptoms. Things like diarrhea, fatigue, stomach cramps, vomiting and a low grade fever. Treatment options are limited.
"Most of the cases go away on their own, but actually there is an antibiotic that has been shown to be effective with this,” said Dr. Huang.
The best defense remains remembering to wash before you eat; even items that come pre-packaged.