State health officials report intestinal illness outbreak

You may want to re-think your dinner plans tonight. The state health department said dozens of produce are testing positive for a parasite that causes week-long bouts of diarrhea.

The parasite, Cyclospora, is typically found on imported fresh produce.

If any of these items are in your fridge or on your dinner plate, take caution. The state health department said since mid-June 68 people have eaten some sort of fresh produce and been infected with an intestinal illness that comes from the Cyclospora parasite.

Dell Children's Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Coburn Allen describes the symptoms, "It's really just a chronic diarrhea with a lot of gas pain, bloating, you don't feel hungry, you really want to avoid and skip meals. And then when you think you're better, you'll have a relapse and continue to be ill for weeks."

According to the health department six cases have come out of Travis County, one from Williamson and another from Hays. Ages range from 15 to 84.

Allen estimates the number of those infected is much higher.

"In general the number of cases reported by the state is probably the tip of the iceberg because the testing that needs to be done is often not ordered on the first pass,” said Allen.

Allen said produce becomes contaminated when field workers' fecal matter comes in contact with plants.

The state experienced outbreaks in 2014 and 2015. Both times cilantro was to blame.

Texas Department of State Health Services Spokesperson Chris Van Deusen said those incidents prompted the FDA to put an import ban on a particular region in Mexico.

Now the rush is on to find the latest culprit.

"Our epidemiologists start looking at case reports. We have people going out both from the state health department and from local health departments interviewing patients gathering information what they've eaten, where they ate, where they do their grocery shopping,” said Van Deusen.

Cooking produce will kill the parasite. Washing, no matter how hard you scrub, will not prevent you from getting sick.

If you believe you may be infected, the health department urges you to see a doctor.

"We're encouraging people if they've experienced these symptoms to go to the doctor and encouraging doctors to be aware we're seeing an outbreak so they can order testing. The more confirmed cases we get the more likely it is that we are going to be able to zero in on what the problem is,” said Van Deusen.

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