Health Department finds increase in intestinal illness in Northern Virginia

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The Virginia Department of Health is investigating an increase in intestinal illness associated with Cyclospora

An increase in cases was first identified in Northern Virginia in mid-June 2019. Now investigators have found an additional outbreak in Central Virginia. A food or water source of these outbreaks has not yet been identified.

Since May 1, 2019 there have been 39 confirmed cases of Cyclosporiasis in Virginia (Central Region–4, Eastern Region–2, Northern Region–27, Northwest Region–4, Southwest Region–2). The five-year average for the same time frame from 2014 to 2018 was 9 cases.

Workplace cafeterias in the following locations are part of the ongoing investigation:

  • Capital One Building at 1600 Capital One Drive, McLean, VA 22102
  • Valo Park Building at 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, VA 22102
  • CarMax at 12800 Tuckahoe Creek Parkway, Richmond, VA 23238

These cafeterias are not widely accessible to the general public. Health officials are working directly with business owners and affected individuals.

The department said the businesses are cooperating in the investigation, and cautioned that public health investigations are complex and time-consuming. In some cases outbreak investigations may not identify a likely source.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of Cyclosporiasis should visit their healthcare provider. They can test for Cyclospora and prescribe the correct treatment.  Physicians will report cases to the health department.

About Cyclosporiasis

Cyclosporiasis is an intestinal illness caused by a microscopic parasite. People can become infected by consuming food or water contaminated with feces or stool that contains the parasite. Illness occurs most often in tropical and subtropical regions.

In the United States, past foodborne outbreaks of Cyclosporiasis have been linked to various types of imported fresh produce, such as raspberries, basil, arugula, snow peas, mesclun lettuce, and cilantro. Of 39 U.S. Cyclospora outbreaks between 2000 and 2017, none have been associated with commercially frozen or canned products.

Cyclosporiasis typically causes watery diarrhea, with frequent, sometimes explosive, stools within one to two weeks after exposure. Other common symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss, abdominal cramping or bloating, nausea and prolonged fatigue. Vomiting, body aches, low-grade fever, and other flu-like symptoms may be noted. If untreated, the illness may last for a few days to a month or longer and may seem to go away but come back again.

Prevention

Safely handling fruit and vegetables is the best way to prevent Cyclosporiasis:

  • Wash: Wash hands with soap and warm water before and after handling or preparing fruits and vegetables.
  • Prepare: Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting, or cooking.
  • Fruits and vegetables that are labeled “prewashed” do not need to be washed again at home. Scrub firm fruits and vegetables, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush. Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fruits and vegetables before preparing and eating.
  • Store: Refrigerate cut, peeled, or cooked fruits and vegetables as soon as possible, or within 2 hours.

 

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About the Author

Truman Lewis
A former reporter and bureau chief, Truman Lewis has covered presidential campaigns, state politics and stories ranging from organized crime to environmental and consumer protection.