Parasite outbreak sickens 170 in the Midwest

COLUMBIA, Mo. - In a public health alert, a parasite found on fruits and vegetables has infected 170 people in the Midwest leading to dangerous weight loss conditions.

Cyclospora is a parasite that is transmitted by swallowing food or water that is contaminated. It is not transferred from person-to-person.

The parasite has affected people in Wisconsin, Illinois, Texas, Iowa and Nebraska. So far, there have been no reports of cyclospora in Missouri.

"It's been around for some time, but has been somewhat quiet nationally for the last few years," Nebraska State Epidemiologist Dr. Tom Safranek told ABC 17 News. "In the 90s, it showed up on raspberries."

Those raspberries were from Guatemala.

Health officials around the U.S. are still trying to pinpoint the exact cause for this year's outbreak.

"We believe it's something that's emerging through the food system," said Safranek. "It's something in our vegetable supply."

Trina Teacutter with the Columbia-Boone County Health Department says Missourians should not be too concerned about this. Fruits and vegetables have a short shelf life and the majority of the outbreaks were in the beginning of June.

"I think people can feel really comfortable, and the food supply is very safe," said Teacutter.

There have been no deaths from cyclospora but it has led to several hospitalizations. Symptoms include rapid weight loss, fatigue and stomach cramps.

The epidemiology tests continue to find a source for the outbreak.

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