Texas health officials facing challenges finding Cyclospora source

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s been three months since Central Texas first experienced its first Cyclospora case and the numbers keep rising.

In Travis County, there are currently 31 cases of Cyclosporiasis — an illness caused after people eat contaminated fresh fruits and vegetables from Central and South America that have a parasite. 

Those cases are up more than 10 from the beginning of July. 

To this day, health officials are still facing challenges in finding the source. 

For mother of two Amanda Britton, the spike in numbers is concerning, especially after learning her sister’s mother-in-law recently was affected. 

“She was sick for like three weeks,” said Britton. 

That amount of time is not unusual, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, which says the process of Cyclospora can sometimes take up to weeks and searching for the source can become a battle against time. 

“It’s a lot of going through and trying to remember what you might have eaten because by the time it is reported to the health department it’s usually been two, three, four weeks since the person was exposed to the parasite,” said Lara Anton, press officer at DSHS. 

Those diagnosed with the foodborne illness are asked to fill out a questionnaire. It asks patients to list everything they’ve eaten in the past two weeks: including fresh produce, herbs and fruits.

The questionnaire also asks about the person’s symptoms, what restaurants they’ve visited and if they’ve traveled out of the country.

“Then what the epidemiologists do is they do a study,” said Anton. 

The study can sometimes lead them to grocery stores and restaurants in search of the source after interviewing those affected.

“A lot of times the issue with that is, it’s been so long since the item was served to somebody or sold to somebody that the items with Cyclospora are no longer there.”

It’s an ongoing battle that concerns Britton, who says she’ll continue to do what she’s been doing: making sure she washes her fruits and veggies thoroughly. 

Austin’s Public Health Department says of the 31 Travis County cases, 12 cases included people who traveled internationally to Cuba, Mexico and Guatemala. And the ages of those affected range from two to 73-years-old. So far, three adults have been hospitalized.

On Monday, the US Department of Agriculture said Cyclospora may have spread to products sold at Trader Joe’s, Walgreens and Kroger.

KXAN asked the health department about the cases, but they wouldn’t comment due to the ongoing investigation. 

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