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Cyclospora Outbreak Hits Illinois – Investigation Pointing to Bagged Lettuce

Posted in Cyclospora,Cyclospora,Our Blog,Outbreaks & Recalls on June 29, 2020

Cyclospora strikes again.  Bagged lettuces are the source, says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  A joint outbreak investigation is underway between the CDC, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and public health and regulatory officials in affected states to determine the scope and cause of a multistate outbreak of Cyclospora infections that have been linked to bagged salad mix produced by Fresh Express containing iceberg lettuce, carrots, and red cabbage.  This potentially tainted produce was available for purchase at ALDI, Hy-Vee, Jewel-Osco, and Walmart stores across the Midwestern United States. Here is what we know about this Illinois Cyclospora Outbreak:

The Outbreak in Illinois

Illinois has been one of the hardest hit by this outbreak, involving 57 Illinoians.  Total illness across the Midwestern states of Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin have reached 206.  This has resulted in 23 hospitalizations so far with illness onset dates ranging from May 11, 2020 to June 17, 2020.  Illinois counties have been receiving reports of Cyclospora infection starting in mid-May.

Recalled Products Linked to Outbreak

So far epidemiological and traceback evidence has primarily pointed to bag salad mix containing iceberg lettuce, carrots, and red cabbage produced by Fresh Express, though additional traceback evidence suggests other bagged lettuce mixes may also to blame.

These include:

  • Little Salad Bar Brand Garden Salad
    • Sold at ALDI stores in the states of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin
    • Affected produce was sold in 12- ounce bags with Use-By dates of 05/01/2020 through 06/29/2020
  • Hy-Vee Brand Garden Salad
    • Sold at Hy-Vee stores in the states of Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wisconsin
    • Affect produce was sold in 12-ounce bags and all Use-By dates are included in the recall.
  • Jewel-Osco Signature Farms Brand Garden Salad
    • Sold at Jewel-Osco stores in the states of Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa
    • Affected produce was sold in 12-ounce bags with Use-By dates of 5/16/2020 through 7/4/2020.

At this time, the Marketside brand Classic Iceberg Salad sold at Walmart stores in the states of Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin in 12-ounce and 24-ounce bags with Use-By dates of 05/19/2020 through 07/04/2020 does not impact Illinoians.

While a tentative recall has been initiated for known potential contributors, the CDC and FDA are continuing the investigation to monitor the outbreak and determine if other products may be a source or contributing to the outbreak illnesses.

“Although a link has been made to Cyclospora in some Illinois cases, public health officials continue to investigate other sources,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.  “If you consumed store brand packaged garden salads since May and then developed watery diarrhea, please contact a healthcare provider about testing and treatment.

Key bagged lettuce manufacturers are cooperating with the investigation.  “Our immediate thoughts and concern are for those consumers who have become ill due to the outbreak,” Fresh Express said in a statement Saturday.  “Out of an abundance of caution, we have issued a voluntary recall of both branded and private label salad products that were produced at the Streamwood facility and contain those ingredients.”

CDC Consumer and Retail Advisory

The CDC indicates that consumers and retailers in the states of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin should not eat, sell, or serve these recalled products.

The CDC advises consumers to discard any remaining salad, even if some of it has been eaten and no one has gotten sick, though it is probably a good idea to retain the product to contribute to your potential illness investigation in the event that you do fall ill.  Package up the recalled product safely and insure no on in the home can mistakenly consume the potentially infectious product.  Reach out to your healthcare professional for additional advice or contact a trusted source, such as The Lange Law Firm for additional steps you may take.

Additionally, if you live in any of the states indicated in the advisory and do not know whether the bagged salad mix you have in your home is one of the recalled salads, your safe bet is to not eat it.

What Do I Need to Know About Cyclospora?

Cyclospora isn’t your average bacterial infection. In fact, it isn’t bacteria at all.  Cyclospora is the common name for the parasite Cyclospora cavetanensis.  While there are other Cyclospora species – 16 known at this time, that can infect primates, other mammals, and reptiles, Cyclospora cavetanensis is the only species posing a threat to humans.

Transmission typically does not occur from animal to human, or even from direct contact from one person to another.  The life cycle of this parasitic organism limits this endeavor.  The infected human incubates this organism after infection, passing oocysts (a type of egg) into their feces.  It takes about a week for these oocysts to mature before becoming infectious to humans.  When contaminated food or water are consumed once eggs reach maturity, the cycle restarts.

Cyclospora is found in the more tropical and subtropical regions of the world.  For example, Central America.  While infection often occurs in those who are living or traveling in these hotspot areas are at increased risk, globalization of the food supply has increased infection rates to non-endemic areas such as the State of Illinois in the United States.  Raw or potentially undercooked foods making their way to your grocery store and later to your home maybe harboring these parasites due to fecal-contaminated irrigation water.

What to Look for and Who’s at Risk

Anyone can be infected with this harmful parasite, though some groups of individuals may experience more severe and even deadly symptoms.  The very young, the very old, and those with a compromised immune system are the most susceptible to infection.  Young children and AIDS patients often have a higher morbidity rate than other groups.

Symptoms of Cyclospora infection general begin within about a week from consuming infected food or drink.  The parasite makes its way to the small intestine where it plants itself and begins reproducing.  The typical symptoms involve watery diarrhea along with frequent and sometimes explosive diarrhea.  This is one of the primary symptoms that give the host reason to believe they have been infected with some kind of foodborne illness.

Other symptoms that may vary in severity include:

  • abdominal bloating
  • body aches
  • dehydration
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • increased gas
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • stomach cramps/pain
  • vomiting
  • weight loss
  • and other “flu-like” symptoms

In some cases, long-term complications may persist.  Relapse of illness is very common, as the infected host can continue to propagate an infectious environment.  Other complications include Guillain-Barré syndrome, reactive arthritis, and long-term malabsorption issues.

What Should I Do If I Think I May Be Sick?

There are a few key things that you can do to help yourself in recovery and assist the investigation to help prevent others from falling ill.

First, talk to your healthcare provider.  Appropriate testing and reporting of this illness will help the investigation and your healthcare provider may be able to help treat you so that you may feel better faster or avoid more serious symptoms and/or complications.

Retrace your food consumption.  Write down what you ate in the two weeks before you started to get sick.  This information will help the traceback investigation to better assess which food products could be the likely source of the outbreak.

Report your illness to your local health department and assist public health investigators by answering questions about your illness.

The Lange Law Firm Helps Illinois Families in Cyclospora Outbreak

Our mission is to help families who have been harmed by contaminated food or water.  When corporations cause Cyclospora food poisoning outbreaks or Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks, we use the law to hold them accountable.  The Lange Law Firm, PLLC is the only law firm in the nation solely focused on representing families in food poisoning lawsuits and Legionnaires disease lawsuits.

If you or your child was infected with Cyclospora or any other parasite and are interested in making a legal claim for compensation, we have a Cyclospora lawyer ready to help you.  Call us for a free no obligation legal consultation at (833) 330-3663 or send us an e-mail here.

By: Heather Van Tassell