State Health Officials Monitor Parasitic Disease Outbreak

By: Shannon Kantner Email
By: Shannon Kantner Email

"The best defense is to handle your produce properly," Steve Antaya, owner of Tom's Food Center in Okemos, said. "Wash it, clean it."

An apple a day is supposed to keep the doctor away, but it might be sending people to the hospital instead.

There's a rare parasite wreaking havoc on people in the Midwest called "cyclospora," and only time will tell if it hits Michigan.

"There's a stomach bug circulating, and they know what the infection is, they know what the parasite is," Michigan Department of Community Health spokesperson Angela Minicuci said.

The exact source of the disease is still up in the air though. The Centers for Disease Control points to fresh produce as the prime suspect for the outbreak that's hit 14 states, including Ohio and Illinois.

The most common symptom is prolonged and severe diarrhea and cramping. Michigan is in the clear so far.

"Without knowing what the source is, it's really hard to determine if it's going to hit Michigan," Minicuci said. "We're watching the CDC's updates very closely."

According to the CDC, raspberries, basil, or snow peas could be to blame, but health officials aren't sure yet. Grocery store owners say it's important to use caution no matter what produce is going in your cart.

"The best defense is to handle your produce properly," Steve Antaya, owner of Tom's Food Center in Okemos, said. "Wash it, clean it."

That probably sounds like common sense, but he said it's a bit of a lost art with all the pre-packaged foods out there nowadays. So, consumers shouldn't be fooled; many of those items still need to be rinsed and dried to remove contaminants.

"When it comes into a carton, say like blueberries, those got put in a carton right from the farm, and those haven't been washed," Antaya said. "You need to wash those at home."

Cyclospora is often found in tropical places. Imported produce or people who travel could be the culprits, and the health department and grocery stores just hope the parasite doesn't travel to Michigan.

"Right now, it's just wait and see," Antaya said.

The Michigan Department of Community Health is monitoring reports across the state very carefully.

The sickness can last for weeks, but there are antibiotics that can treat it.

The latest CDC report said there are 353 cases of cyclospora in 14 states and one city. There have been no deaths related to the outbreak, but 21 people have been hospitalized. Iowa has the most cases.

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