Maryland Cyclospora Outbreak: Maryland Not Immune to Multi-State Cyclospora Outbreak
Like every state, Maryland has a nickname or two. The recent Cyclospora outbreak hitting Maryland aggressively, calls to mind the nickname ‘The Old-Line State’ lending to a Revolutionary event wherein Marylanders heroically held off a much larger British army, allowing General Washington to evacuate his troops. Now, I am not comparing a parasitic infection to that of a British invasion, yet, both require a degree of resiliency, wouldn’t you say? Especially considering that with 42 cases of this intestinal illness popping up in the first half this year, 37 of which have surfaced in the past 2 weeks. And, public health officials have not identified the cause.
There is a nation-wide uptick in the cases of Cyclospora this year. Dozens of states are experiencing cases linked to this one-cell parasite that invades the intestinal tract and causes a multitude of symptoms. Some clusters, sharing a geographic area, have been successfully linked to a specific food source and/or dining establishment. In these cases,
public health officials have been able to interview ill consumer and find similar behaviors, often leading to a single ingredient. This outcome has led to a public alert and typically a product recall. However, in the case of Maryland, the lab-tested and confirmed cases of Cyclospora have not resulted in a recall. And, with the broad reach of this parasite, typically associated with fresh produce of many different varieties, the challenge is real.
Cyclospora, this one-cell parasite, makes its way easily into a food source or water by way of contaminated feces. Once present, the food source or water will show no evidence of contamination, making detection impossible. Good hygiene, therefore, is paramount when handling and preparing food, especially fresh, imported fruits and vegetables. Washing hands with hot, soapy water before handling foods is equally important to washing the foods themselves. And, keeping surfaces, especially where food is prepared, cut and stored, disinfectants are important.
How Should Consumers be Handling the Maryland Cyclospora Outbreak?
Maryland consumers, while without the benefit of an outbreak source, can and should practice safe food handling and require it of dining establishments to help mitigate the exposure. Also, paying attention to public alerts from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Food & Drug Administration (FDA), especially as they investigate these cases, is key. Report illness and see a health professional immediately if you are experiencing symptoms such as weight loss accompanied by extreme diarrhea, vomiting, bloat, dehydration and fatigue. Reporting your illness not only helps you to get the right course of treatment to speed up recovery, but will potentially help keep other Marylanders out of harm’s way.