The Denton County Health Department has reported that labs have confirmed five cases of cyclosporiasis, a foodborne illness, in the county.
According to Juan Rodriguez, Denton County’s epidemiologist, there have only been seven cases in the past four years, making this recent outbreak unusual.
The incidents may be connected to 10 recent cases in Tarrant County and eight in Dallas County. The outbreak may also be linked to a wave of cyclosporiasis in the Midwest last month that sickened 45 people in Iowa and 35 in Nebraska, officials said.
Symptoms of this foodborne disease include diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, gas, nausea and vomiting and can last anywhere from three days to a couple of months.
Cyclospora cayetanensis is a parasite that contaminates food and water, particularly fruits and vegetables. Sarah McKinney, a public information officer with the health department, said the illness occurs when food is contaminated with fecal matter.
“We’re not sure yet whether these cases are coming from ... purchasers. Or the parasites could be present even before from the producers,” McKinney said. “That’s why it’s of the utmost importance to make sure your food is clean.”
McKinney advised people to wash — not just rinse — fruits and vegetables before eating them. She also suggested washing one’s hands frequently and eating cooked, rather than raw, vegetables. The health department encourages anyone afflicted with any of the symptoms to see a doctor as it could help investigators get to the root of the disease.
“Definitely go and see your health care provider. They’ll run specific tests. Whatever it is, it could be one of many foodborne illnesses,” she said. “If diagnosed with cyclosporiasis, your physician will prescribe antibiotics, then fluids and rest — standard care for a diarrhea case.”
As of now, the health department’s investigation into the recent outbreak is ongoing.
Epidemiologists from Denton, Tarrant and Dallas counties are pooling information and looking into stories from doctors and patients in order to find out where the problem stems from.
“This is what we do on a day-to-day basis — take in reports from physicians, labs, hospitals, even day cares that are required to notify,” McKinney said. “Sometimes we talk to patients, labs to confirm the case. And these cyclosporiasis cases are all lab confirmed. We know they have the illness, now we’re just trying to figure out where it’s coming from.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.