United States

Cyclosporiasis Outbreak Potentially Linked to Fresh Basil Imported From Mexico

DC, Maryland, Virginia confirm increase in cases of intestinal illness

basil 072619
NBCWashington

What to Know

  • Cyclosporiasis is an intestinal illness causes by a microscopic parasite, cyclospora.
  • People can become infected by consuming contaminated food or water.
  • The illness has sickened 132 people across 11 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fresh basil imported from a company in Mexico potentially caused an outbreak of intestinal illness in the D.C. area, the Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday.

Investigators are still looking to see if there is another source for the increase in confirmed cases of cyclosporiasis.

The illness has sickened 132 people across 11 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of the 42 reports of cyclosporiasis infections in Maryland this year, 37 have come in the past two weeks, the Maryland Department of Health said Thursday.

In Virginia, 39 cases of cyclosporiasis have been confirmed since May 1. The average for the same time span from 2014 to 2018 was nine cases.

The D.C. Department of Health confirmed Friday 14 cases of the illness this year compared to eight cases in all of 2018.

Health officials are investigating the cafeterias at the Capital One Building and the Valo Park Building in McLean and a CarMax in Richmond.

So far, the outbreak has resulted in only four hospitalizations and no deaths.

Cyclosporiasis is an intestinal illness causes by a microscopic parasite, cyclospora.

"Cyclospora is transmitted by fresh produce that is infected with fecal material," Fairfax County Health Department Division of Epidemiology and Population Health Director Dr. Benjamin Schwartz said. "Generally, it's in imported produce."

People can become infected by consuming contaminated food or water.

"The illness generally occurs between one and two weeks after eating something contaminated with the parasite cyclospora," Schwartz said.

At first, it may seem like a commong stomach bug.

"The diarrhea may last a month or even longer and may be what we call relapsing and remitting,” Schwartz said. "In other words, it becomes a little bit better then gets worse again."

Anyone experiencing symptoms should reach out to their doctor for testing, said Dr. Benjamin Gonzalez of Atlantis Medical Wellness Center in Silver Spring.

"If you treat it early, you see your doctor early, then the infection will go away and you're safe; you’re very safe," he said.

Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting or cooking them to prevent cyclosporiasis, the Virginia Department of Health said in a statement. "Prewashed" fruits don't need to be washed again at home, but firm fruits and vegetables like melons and cucumbers should be scrubbed with a clean produce brush.

Washing hands, cutting away damaged or bruised areas on fruits and vegetables, and refrigerating cut, peeled or cooked produce as soon as possible also will help prevent the disease.

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