Infectious disease outbreak hits St. Louis County, possibly linked to premade salads

Infectious disease outbreak hits St. Louis County, possibly linked to premade salads

St. Louis County is seeing a breakout of the infectious disease cyclosporiasis, which is linked to fruits and vegetables contaminated with bacteria and might be spreading through premade salads, county officials said Wednesday.

The county has seen 22 confirmed cases of cyclosporiasis since late May, an unusually high number that has spurred an investigation into the source of the infection, the county said in a news release. The majority of cases have been in west and southwest county, specifically Ballwin, Chesterfield and Fenton.

All cases so far have been in adults ranging from 21 to 80 years old. No definite origin has been confirmed, but many of the affected people reported eating lettuce, tomatoes and cilantro, according to the release. Of the total cases, 13 report eating premade salads, and several more cases are still in the process of being interviewed about what they might have eaten.

Cyclosporiasis is an intestinal illness caused by the microscopic parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis. Usually people become infected with Cyclospora when they consume food or water contaminated with feces that contains the parasite. The most common symptoms for cyclosporiasis include watery diarrhea and frequent and sometimes explosive bowel movements. Other common symptoms are loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach cramps/pain, bloating, increased gas, nausea and fatigue.

“There are simple steps people can take to prevent the transmission of cyclosporiasis, and as we see a rise in case numbers, it is vital that community members become more vigilant in following these precautions,” said Dr. Fredrick Echols, St. Louis County Department of Public Health’s director of communicable disease control services.

To prevent transmission, the St. Louis County Department of Public Health recommends the following:

Wash hands with soap and warm water before and after handling or preparing fruits and vegetables. Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with soap and hot water between the preparation of raw meat, poultry and seafood products and the preparation of fruits and vegetables that will not be cooked.

Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting or cooking. Fruits and vegetables that are labeled “prewashed” do not need to be washed again at home. Scrub firm fruits and vegetables, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush. Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fruits and vegetables before preparing and eating.

Refrigerate cut, peeled or cooked fruits and vegetables as soon as possible, or within two hours. Store fruits and vegetables away from raw meat, poultry and seafood.

Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently if you are in close contact with an individual who has a confirmed Cyclospora infection.

If you believe you may have cyclosporiasis, contact your medical provider immediately.

For more information on cyclosporiasis, visit: www.cdc.gov/parasites/cyclosporiasis/index.html