The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) yesterday reported that a recent surge in reports of illnesses due to the parasite Cyclospora has prompted the agency to launch an investigation into the infections in hopes of determining a common source. DSHS officials said they have received reports of 77 cyclosporiasis cases from around Texas this year, including 69 in the last month alone.

In a news release issued yesterday, DSHS said it is collaborating with local health departments to gather information and identify the cause of the outbreak. Officials said that last year, Texas had 351 cases of cyclosporiasis, more than any other state. In most previous years, however, the number of cases reported in Texas was in the single or low double digits.

The DSHS release explained that cyclosporiasis is an intestinal illness caused by consuming food or water contaminated with the Cyclospora parasite. The primary symptom is watery diarrhea lasting a few days to a few months, and symptoms may come and go multiple times over a period of weeks. The agency recommended that individuals contact their health care provider if they suspect that they have a Cyclospora infection, and urged health care providers to test patients for Cyclospora if they have diarrheal illness lasting more than a few days.

The agency also stated:

DSHS recommends thoroughly washing fresh produce, but that may not entirely eliminate the risk because Cyclospora can be difficult to wash off. Cooking will kill the parasite.

Although no common exposure source has been identified yet, past outbreaks in the United States have been associated with imported fresh produce, including pre-packaged salad mix, raspberries, basil, snow peas and mesclun greens. A 2013 outbreak in Texas was linked, at least in part, to fresh cilantro from Puebla, Mexico.

Editor's Note: For more information on Cyclospora, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website or download the CDC's fact sheet on Cyclospora here.