Denton and Tarrant counties on Wednesday confirmed 15 cases of cyclospora infection, adding to the concern that the outbreak of the rare foodborne illness that has sickened more than 100 in the Midwest has made its way to Texas.
The report comes a day after the Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services sent a memo to medical providers advising that eight cases were diagnosed there in the last week. On Wednesday, Dallas County announced a ninth diagnosis.
Tarrant County Public Health spokeswoman Vanessa Joseph said medical providers have diagnosed 10 cases, with the patients ranging in age from their teens to their 70s. The Denton County Health Department confirmed five cases, but did not release ages of the patients.
Neither knew when the first case was diagnosed in either county.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, cyclospora is a parasite that can infect food and water. Symptoms typically begin a week after exposure and last between two days and two weeks. If left untreated, however, the illness can last up to two months.
Those diagnosed with cyclospora infection often have diarrhea, loss of apetite, weight, loss, cramping, bloating, excessive gas, nausea and fatigue. The parasite is usually found on unwashed, imported produce. Health experts say to be sure to wash fruits and vegetables before they're eaten or cook them, which kills the parasite.
Statewide, Texas has reported 37 reports of the infection in the past week. This spike is alarming to county health departments: Between 2001 and 2010, there were just 35 cases throughout Texas, according to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.
On Tuesday, Dallas County epidemiologists sent a memo to health providers expressing concern that the rapid increase in Texas cases is linked to an outbreak that, as of Tuesday, had sickened 124 people in Iowa and Nebraska.
In an interview Tuesday, Dallas County Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Wendy Chung said her staff is attempting to link the North Texas outbreak with that of the Midwest, but it's a tough task.
"At this point, we do not know the exact food item which may be implicated," she said Tuesday. "But in the past in the United States, these types of outbreaks have traditionally been associated with fresh imported produce items."
No cause for the outbreak has been determined. See a medical provider if you're experiencing any of the associated symptoms. Cyclosporiasis is treated with a seven to 10 day regimen of antibiotics.