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Pesky parasite that sickens hundreds with "miserable" illness confirmed in the Ozarks

Cyclospora is found on fresh fruits and vegetables

July 30, 2013|Mary Moloney, KSPR News Reporter | mmoloney@kspr.com

BRANSON, Mo. -- A pesky parasite known as Cyclospora has made hundreds of people sick in 15 states and one of them is in the Ozarks. Health officials warn that if you are infected, you can be miserable for months.

Cyclospora is a microscopic parasite that feeds off your body and causes intestinal infections.

"It's a one cell organism that goes through your system and eats a lot of the nutrients within your system," explained Kimberly Foster, epidemiologist at the Taney County Health Department. "It feeds off what you've got in there, and it just sits there and produces more. They replicate in your gut."

The microscopic bug can cause major long-lasting problems.

"It's like any other stomach illness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps that can last from a few weeks to a few months if not treated," said Foster.

The Taney County Health Department confirmed one person who lives in the county is infected with Cyclospora; however, epidemiologists believe the illness was contracted out of state. There is another case in Missouri around the Kansas City area in Jackson County.

According to information by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 372 people across 15 states have Cyclosporiasis. In the United States, outbreaks of Cyclosporiasis have been linked to various produce.

To see a map of the infections, click here.

Tuesday, health officials in Iowa and Nebraska said a prepackaged salad mix is the source of an outbreak of the stomach bug in those two states. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said not all of the illnesses nationwide could be linked to it. The investigation into how people get the illness can be a time consuming mystery.

"You got to think in the back of your mind, do you know where you've eaten in the last month? You know, what grocery store did you go to? What brands of foods?" detailed Foster. "So that's why it's been so hard to find the common source because you've got to think about what you've consumed in the last month."

Although uncomfortable, the illness isn't typically deadly and can be treated with antibiotics.

To keep your family safe from the parasite, health officials caution to wash all fruits and vegetables, no matter where you get the items.

At Springfield's Hy-Vee supermarket, fresh produce is cleaned in store. Even so, produce managers stress food should be washed again at home.

"Most things you can't see it, so it's something you can't take a chance on," said Andrew Lindeberg, Hy-Vee's assistant manager for perishables. "We do wash our vegetables here, but it's just a safety precaution to take. You never know where it's been between here and your home or here and the farms."

Many grocery stores sell produce sprays, but health officials said you could also use home remedies or the solid staple of soap and water.

"It's very important to wash your hands, it's very important to wash your fruits and vegetables under running water so you don't get those Cyclosporiasis ingested into your system," elaborated Foster. "Scrub it with hot soapy water for 30 seconds. Make sure there is friction."

Lindeberg agreed, although he said his family uses a mixture of vinegar and water or other cleaning agents.

"It's just one of those issues," he smiled. "You can never be too safe or too sure."

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