WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 (UPI) — An outbreak of cyclosporiasis linked to feces-contaminated cilantro from Mexico may have caused up to 384 people to become ill this year, federal health officials said Tuesday.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said as of Monday, 384 cases of the stomach parasite have been reported to the agency since the beginning of 2015. The majority of those illnesses were reported on or after May 1.
A joint investigation by the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Cyclospora parasites are invisible to the human eye and cause illness — cyclosporiasis — when contaminated food or water is ingested. People with cyclospora experience water diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, cramping, bloating, increased gas, nausea, fatigue, vomiting, low-grade fever and other flu-like symptoms.
The illness can last for several weeks to a month or more, and it can return after symptoms disappear. People with the infection often feel tired and have muscle aches,the CDC says.
Officials said clusters of the disease were reported in Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin, and illnesses in the later two states were traced back to cilantro served in restaurants. The FDA said the cilantro was supplied by farms in the state of Puebla, Mexico, though definitive tests linking the illnesses to those farms have not been conducted.
Cilantro from Puebla was found to be one potential source of a 2012 outbreak of cyclosporiasis, and there have been annual outbreaks of the disease since then. In July, the FDA issued a ban on cilantro coming from the Mexican state after it found evidence of human feces and toilet paper in the herb fields.
The FDA issued an alert saying it is detaining all cilantro from Mexico at the border through August and won’t allow the import of any cilantro from Puebla without inspections and certification showing it’s not contaminated. All cilantro from anywhere else in Mexico must be transported with documentation proving its origination.
The agency said the contamination is likely a widespread problem across the state, including fecal contamination in growing areas, irrigation of fields with sewage-contaminated water, cleaning or cooling produce with contaminated water, poor hygienic practices of workers involved in the harvest and process of produce, and lack of adequate cleaning of equipment. U.S. officials inspected 11 farms and packing houses in Puebla and found “objectionable conditions” at eight of them, including no soap, toilet paper, paper towels and running water in some cases.
In one case, the holding tank containing water workers used to wash their hands was found to be contaminated with cyclospora cayetanensis.
The import ban does not cover multi-ingredient foods that contain cilantro.