Rare foodborne illness strikes Midwest
Thursday, Jul 18th 2013

A rare foodborne parasite has sickened at least 80 people in Nebraska and Iowa, with new reports coming out that even more people could be affected.

Fox News reported on July 15 that 45 Iowans and 35 Nebraskans have contracted cyclosporiasis from Cyclospora, an uncommon parasite that is typically spread by consuming water or food that has been in contact with contaminated feces. More recent reports from the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services put the combined sick total at 133 cases, with The Dallas Morning News reporting 25 additional cases in Texas.

In comparison to other foodborne illnesses, tracking and stopping Cyclospora can be especially difficult for a number of reasons. For one, its main symptom is diarrhea, so someone who is infected may not realize the cause of the symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. Doctors need to administer a specialized test to determine if someone has cyclosporiasis. In addition, the parasite can remain dormant for days and even weeks, with the Iowa Department of Public Health noting that the first cases started popping up in mid June. It is also particularly uncomfortable to deal with, as symptoms can last for up to 57 days.

As for the source of this most recent outbreak, The Dallas Morning News reported that this information is still unknown. However, it is most commonly spread from produce, and Fox News reported that officials currently believe a vegetable of some kind is to blame in these instances.

"We're not ready to say it's absolutely for sure, but things are pointing more toward a vegetable rather than a fruit but we're still looking at everything," said Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, epidemiologist and medical director for the Iowa Department of Public Health, according to Fox News.

Using environment control systems to prevent foodborne illness
While cyclosporiasis may be rare, foodborne illnesses still occur frequently in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million people become sick from a foodborne illness annually, meaning that one out of every six Americans falls ill every year because of something they ate. Furthermore, foodborne illnesses send 128,000 U.S. residents to the hospital and kill 3,000 Americans annually.

Although these pathogens spread via many channels, one easy way to prevent the proliferation of these kinds of diseases is by using temperature monitoring equipment. Most bacteria cannot survive under especially cold conditions, so organizations that serve food to the public should be sure to store all meat, dairy and produce in a cold storage facility that is properly monitored to make sure it is always too cold to let pathogens reproduce and later cause harm.