The number of people across the state who have been sickened by an intestinal parasite has more than doubled since figures were released Friday.
The Illinois Department of Public Health says 200 of the 502 cases are linked to McDonald’s salads contaminated with the microscopic cyclospora parasite. Another 148 cases of cyclosporiasis are tied to a July 3 private event at a golf club in suburban Skokie.
But why the rise in cases of cyclosporiasis, and why now?
“The $64,000 question is whether foodborne outbreaks are actually on the rise, or whether we are just better at detecting them because of better scientific methods, or whether we’re just more aware of them because of social media,” said IDPH Director Nirav Shah. “It’s probably a combination of all three.”
According to IDPH, people can become infected by consuming food or water contaminated with feces that contains the parasite. Symptoms include watery diarrhea, loss of appetite and weight, nausea, fatigue and low-grade fever. People may also experience cramping, bloating and/or increased gas.
Cyclospora is not spread directly from one person to another and the infection can be treated with antibiotics. People who become sick with diarrhea should rest and drink lot so fluids and seek medical advice before taking medication to treat their diarrhea, according to IDPH.
If left untreated, the illness could last several days to a month or longer. People who have been previously infected with the parasite can become infected again, according to IDPH.
Previous cyclospora infections have been linked to various imported fresh produce, including raspberries, snow peas, basil and lettuce.
Shah says there isn’t much to do in terms of preventive measures, but he recommends washing produce before cooking and consumption, no matter where it’s been purchased.
“The primary responsibility of monitoring food safety and monitoring cyclospora rests with food producers,” he said.
Shah joins us in discussion.
Kristen Thometz contributed.
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