McDonald’s has stopped selling salads at thousands of its Midwestern locations after dozens of people fell ill with cyclosporiasis, an illness caused by the intestinal parasite cyclospora.
As of Sunday, July 15, public health officials in Illinois have confirmed 90 cases of cylclosporiasis in patients who had eaten at McDonald’s in the previous days, while officials in Iowa reported 15 cases.
Health officials in Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin, and South Dakota are also reporting cyclosporiasis illnesses that they believe stem from McDonald’s salads. According to USA Today, each of the states has two cases, except for Missouri, which has seven, and Minnesota, which has three.
The outbreak has prompted McDonald’s to halt salad sales at about 3,000 of its restaurant locations in the affected states.
The cyclosporiasis outbreak appears to be linked to salads, although not exclusively. While all of the 15 Iowa patients reported having eaten a salad at McDonald’s in the days before their illness, just 25 percent of the Illinois patients said they had eaten a McDonald’s salad.
“Although a link has been made to salads sold in McDonald’s restaurants in some Illinois cases, public health officials continue to investigate other sources,” said Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) Director Dr. Nirav D. Shah, M.D., J.D. “If you ate a salad from McDonald’s since mid-May and developed diarrhea and fatigue, contact a health care provider about testing and treatment.”
Statements by McDonald’s indicate its lettuce could be the root cause of the illnesses. According to The New York Times, McDonald’s has stopped selling salad at 3,000 locations in Illinois and Iowa and is also working on removing all the lettuce from the same locations.
The company also said it was switching its lettuce supplier for the affected area.
The IDPH said McDonald’s is “fully cooperating with the state health departments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration investigation.”
People become infected by cyclospora by consuming food or beverages contaminated with feces that contains the parasite. The parasite does not spread directly from one person to another.
Symptoms usually begin about a week after exposure and usually include frequent bouts of watery diarrhea (the most common symptom); loss of appetite and weight; cramping and bloating; nausea (vomiting is less common); fatigue; and low-grade fever. Symptoms may seem to go away but then return one or more times.
Cyclospora infection can be treated with specific antibiotics. If not treated, the illness may last for a few days to a month or longer.