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Food-borne illness sickens dozens in Texas, midwestern states - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Food-borne illness sickens dozens in Texas, midwestern states

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SHREVEPORT, La. -

A parasitic outbreak that began in the midwest has now made its way to North Texas, and it has officials warning residents to take extra precautions when it comes to eating fruits and vegetables.

Dr. Raoult Ratard, Louisiana's state epidemiologist, says the most common cause of infection from the food-borne parasite cyclospora is through ingesting contaminated food or water, and by not regularly washing hands.

"If human waste is going to go on the produce, or animal waste is going on the produce, you may have an even larger number of people that are infected."

So far, 48 people have been infected in Texas, and nearly 200-plus in Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska combined.

Health officials say cleaning fruits and vegetables thoroughly is vital to reducing the risk of further contamination.

Dr. Ratard says it usually takes about a week or two after exposure for someone to become sick, with severe diarrhea being a hallmark symptom, but he says the disease may be even more common than we realize.

"Many people with diarrhea don't even go to a physician, they are going to take some over-the-counter drugs or nothing at all, and so most of it is probably never diagnosed and never reported."

The good news is that cyclospora can be treated with common anti-biotics, sulpha drugs, but those most at risk are young children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, making sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and underneath your fingernails.

North Texas health departments are using an extensive questionnaire to try and track down the source of the food-borne illness.

Patients who test positive for the intestinal illness are being given a 16-page questionnaire developed by the CDC.

It is still unknown whether the outbreak in Texas has any connection to the outbreaks in Iowa and Nebraska.

Additional tips to keep raw fuits and vegetables safe:

- Wash hands with soapy water before & after preparing food

- Clean countertops, cutting boards and utensils after peeling, cutting & chopping produce

- Do not wash produce with soaps or detergents

- Use clean potable cold water to wash items

- For produce with thick skin, use a vegetable brush to wash away microbes

- Produce with nooks & crannies should be soaked for 1-2 minutes in cold, clean water

- Put fragile produce, like raspberries, in a colander & spray with distilled waer

- Dry produce thoroughly with clean cloth or paper towel

- Fill spray bottle with distilled water to wash fruits/veggies on-the-go

- Always wash home-grown and farmer's market fruits & vegetables

- Do not re-wash packaged products labeled "ready-to-eat", "washed", or "triple washed"

- Once cut or peeled, refrigerate as soon as possible at 40 degrees F or below

- Do not purchase cut produce that is not refrigerated

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