Texas has had multiple outbreaks of illness due to the parasite Cyclospora linked to cilantro.
Past cases of Cyclospora infections reported in Texas last year were associated with cilantro. Credit: Flickr / Mindy Erdmann

Texas health officials announced Monday they are investigating 56 cases of illness due to Cyclospora, a microscopic parasite found in contaminated water and fresh produce that causes intestinal sickness.

Of those cases, 11 were in Bexar County – the second highest count in the state so far. Sixteen cases were reported in Travis County, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS).

DSHS is working with health departments across the nation reporting Cyclosporiasis outbreaks to gather information about the cases and determine whether there is a common source for the infections.

This is the sixth summer in a row where Texas has experienced an outbreak.

“There’s often an uptick in the summer months because there are more people consuming fruits and veggies,” said Carol Schliesinger, spokesperson with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.

More than 300 cases of Cyclospora infections were reported in Texas last year, and were associated with cilantro, pre-packaged salad mix, raspberries, basil, and snow peas that have been imported to the United States from other countries, according to DSHS.

Lara Anton, press officer with DSHS, told the Rivard Report that symptoms of Cyclosporiasis include frequent bouts of watery diarrhea and loss of appetite, and can last for several weeks or longer if untreated. It usually takes two to 14 days for a person to fall ill.

“A doctor can test for Cyclospora and prescribe antibiotics,” Anton said. “[We encourage] people with symptoms to see their healthcare provider.”

While the Cyclospora parasite typically isn’t washed away with water, health officials still urge people to thoroughly clean all fresh produce. The parasite, which is killed in the cooking process, cannot be transferred from person to person through direct contact or picked up in the water in swimming holes, health officials said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year roughly one in six Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.

“This is not usually a deadly infection, but obviously it is [more detrimental] to a person who is not healthy,” Schliesinger said. “People should seek medical attention because it’s treatable with antibiotics.”

Healthcare providers and labs are required to report confirmed Cyclospora cases to their local health departments.

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.