Health officials across North Texas seek source of parasite outbreak

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on July 19, 2013 at 9:47 PM

Updated Saturday, Jul 20 at 12:34 AM

McKINNEY -- Health officials confirm even more patients have been sickened this week by the food-borne parasite cyclospora.

Counties across North Texas have confirmed there are currently 45 patients as of Friday night:

  • Dallas County: 13
  • Tarrant County: 11
  • Collin County: 14
  • Denton County: 7

Health officials from the counties are working non-stop to narrow down the source of the outbreak.

Patients who test positive for cyclospora are given a 16-page questionnaire developed by the CDC that asks about where they've eaten and where they purchased certain vegetables and fruits.

"We'll get detailed," said Peggy Wittie, an epidemiologist for Collin County. "We'll ask them what they've eaten over a prolonged period of time, what restaurants you went to. If the person only cooked their own food, 'where do you get your own food?'"

Epidemiologists in Collin, Dallas, Tarrant and Denton counties  are working together to find the common link among the North Texas cyclospora cases. Collected data is passed on to state and federal investigators with the CDC and FDA.

"If they see clear linkages or bits of clear linkages from the different health departments involved then they try to track down the sources for where they got that particular item or items," Wittie said.

Cyclospora infections mimic more common stomach and intestinal viruses. Symptoms include watery diarrhea, fatigue and nausea. Cases that go untreated can linger for months.

Many people with food-borne illness don't report it because the symptoms go away. Health authorities urge anyone with symptoms for more than three days to see a doctor. People who are sick should not prepare food for anyone else.

Washing fresh produce before eating it can reduce the chance of getting cyclospora infection. Cooking it should also kill the parasite.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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