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First Cyclospora case reported in Johnson County

BY ALISON CRISSMAN | JULY 16, 2013 5:00 AM

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The cyclospora parasite has reared its head in Johnson County.

Cyclospora, a rare food- or water-borne parasite, has infected 71 Iowans as of Tuesday, according to a report released by the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Sixty reported cases were accounted for as of July 13.

In nearby Linn County, the figure is now 30.

Although a concrete link to the outbreak has yet to be identified, public-health investigators believe the current outbreak comes from a series of tainted fresh vegetables.

“Outbreaks have historically been linked to fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Patricia Quinlisk, the state epidemiologist and medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health. “… It’s typically not in any food that is processed or cooked.”

The first cases of Cyclospora were reported in Iowa in late June, and were originally suspected to be travelers, Quinlisk said, but by the next week, that notion had been ruled out.

Young children and the elderly typically experience the longest symptom periods.

In the last 20 years, the state had only seen 10 confirmed cases. Symptoms of Cyclospora include watery diarrhea, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, and bloating, among others, according to the Public Health Department report. 

If untreated, the infection can last an average of 57 days.

Quinlisk noted that Cyclospora is not passed from person to person, and newly reported cases are from individuals who have already been infected but have just recently been tested for it.

“One of the things we are seeing is that most, if not all of the people being reported had an onset of symptoms back in June,” she said.

Mary DeMartino, the interim associate director for the State Hygienic Laboratory’s disease control division, said on average, the facility sorts through 15-25 stool samples, testing for food-borne illnesses.

This week, that number has ballooned to between 80 and 100, causing a number of employees to sacrifice vacation and time-off periods.

Because a number of food-borne illnesses can arise from fresh produce, DeMartino and Quinlisk both emphasized the importance of thorough washing before eating or cooking.

Foods with thicker skin that can handle scrubbing movements without bruising, DeMartino said, should be cleaned that way.

The majority of sufferers began experiencing preliminary symptoms in mid to late June.


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