Health officers are still not sure of the source of a parasite that has sickened at least 285 people in 11 states. The parasite, known as cyclospora, is a microscopic protozoa that is commonly linked to fresh produce. The prime suspects are fresh raspberries, basil, snow peas and lettuce, though no specific foods have been identified.
People infected with cyclosporasis experience symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss that can last weeks. The illness is easily treated with antibiotics. At least 10 people have been hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported.
Cyclosporasis is usually spread through contaminated water. It is not transmitted person-to-person. On average, about 150 are infected with the condition each year, and no known deaths have been caused by the parasite.
The current outbreak has infected at least 138 people in Iowa, 70 in Nebraska, 66 in Texas, three in Wisconsin, two in Georgia, and one each in Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, New Jersey and Ohio. Public health officials say it is possible the infection is being spread by more than once source. It is also likely infected produce was imported into the United States from another country.
As the number of sick climb, health officers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continue to investigate. In the interim, consumers are urged to wash their hands well when handling produce, and to thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables before eating or cooking them.