Weather Updates

Foodborne parasite hits Lake County

An unsporulated oocyst with undifferentiated cytoplasm is shown (far left) next sporulating oocyst thcontains two immature sporocysts (A). An oocyst

An unsporulated oocyst, with undifferentiated cytoplasm, is shown (far left), next to a sporulating oocyst that contains two immature sporocysts (A). An oocyst that was mechanically ruptured has released one of its two sporocysts (B). One free sporocyst is shown as well as two free sporozoites, the infective stage of the parasite (C). | Submitted by CDC/DPDM

storyidforme: 52872118
tmspicid: 19563218
fileheaderid: 8918281

Updated: September 30, 2013 2:25AM

A foodborne parasite is now making the rounds in Illinois with four confirmed cases, including one in Lake County.

Called a cyclospora infection, the single-celled coccidian parasite causes watery diarrhea (most common), loss of appetite, weight loss, cramping, bloating, increased gas, nausea and fatigue. Other symptoms that are less common include vomiting and a low-grade fever. Untreated, symptoms can last for several weeks to a month and start re-occurring. Antibiotics are used to treat the parasite.

“It’s not necessarily new, it’s just not as common as ecoli and salmonella. This is a parasite that is so small it’s hard to see in a microscope,” said Melaney Arnold, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health in Springfield.

“Iowa and Nebraska have linked it to bagged lettuce, but the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) have not made that link so far, so we’re still investigating,” she said.

There also is no test to determine if the breakout is related or not, unlike ecoli and salmonella where they can identify strains of genetic material and determine if outbreaks are related.

So far there have been a total of 378 cases of cyclospora infection in 16 states and one city. Leading the way are Iowa with 143 and Texas with 101. The rest are: Nebraska (78), Florida (25), Wisconsin (9), Illinois (4), New York City (5), Georgia (3), Kansas (2), Missouri (2), Arkansas (1), Connecticut (1), Minnesota (1), New Jersey (1), New York (1) and Ohio (1).

Some people reported cases where they were out of the country and in sub-tropical and tropical countries where the parasite is common.

In one of the Illinois cases, a Sangamon County resident reported going to Iowa before the onset of the symptoms. The other counties are Lake, Jo Daviess and Montgomery.

“The main difference between this and ecoli or salmonella is the diarrhea can be explosive, and with ecoli, the stool can be bloody,” said Arnold.

In the United States, foodborne outbreaks of cyclosporiasis since the mid-1990s have been linked to various types of imported fresh produce, including raspberries, basil, snow peas, and mesclun lettuce; no commercially frozen or canned produce has been implicated.

Person-to-person transmission is not possible because the parasite needs a good environment for a long time before it becomes infective. Arnold said washing fruits and vegetables, even if it says it was prewashed, and washing hands thoroughly after going to the bathroom is the best defense against the parasite.

“We are concerned, but it may not be snowballing into something bigger,” she said.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.