Foodborne Parasite Outbreak Has Sickened 100+ in Massachusetts: Health Officials

Most of the cases this year have occurred in greater Boston

Massachusetts health officials are warning residents to practice safe food handling after an outbreak of a foodborne parasite that has sickened over 100 people in the last three months alone.

The state Department of Public Health said there has been a dramatic increase in reports of Cyclospora, a foodborne illness that causes gastrointestinal symptoms including severe diarrhea, loss of appetite, cramping, nausea and prolonged fatigue.

Since May 1, state health officials said there have been more than 100 reports of Cyclospora infection cases in the state, compared to between 18 to 33 cases over the past three years. Most of the cases have occurred in greater Boston, but officials said infections have been reported across the state.

Other states have also reported increases in the number of cyclosporiasis cases.

"This illness is not spread person-to-person like many other food-borne diseases, like salmonella or E.coli," said Dr. Larry Madoff, medical director for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. "When a specific contaminated food item is identified, prevention involves removing that product from distribution. In the absence of a specific food item linked to the outbreak, prevention, in this case, means using safe food handling practices."

The cause of the outbreak is not yet known, according to health officials. Cyclosporiasis is caused by accidentally consuming the parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis.

In the past, outbreaks have been linked to imported fresh produce, including Guatemalan raspberries and snow peas, Thai basil, Mexican bagged salad mix and prepackaged commercial vegetable trays. Outbreaks involving restaurants have also been reported.

Massachusetts health officials said they are working with local boards of health, other states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to trace the cause of the outbreak.

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