Basil suspected in Florida cyclosporiasis outbreak

Jun 6, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is trying to uncover the source of basil believed to be responsible for nearly 300 cases of intestinal illness earlier this spring in Florida.

Cases of cyclosporiasis were reported in 32 Florida counties from mid-March to mid-April, the Associated Press (AP) reported on Jun 4. The state health department found 293 laboratory-confirmed cases during that time, the FDA said in a Jun 3 news release. State health officials sought an FDA inquiry when their epidemiologic investigation pointed to fresh basil as the culprit, the FDA said.

The basil is a mystery product right now. Florida Secretary of Health John O. Agwunobi told the AP that officials don't know where the basil came from or where it is being sold.

"FDA is aggressively working with our federal and state partners to determine the source of the contaminated produce and taking appropriate action to protect the public," said Dr. Robert Brackett, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Some of the cases occurred in clusters, but many cases were sporadic, the FDA said.

Cyclosporiasis is caused by the one-celled parasite Cyclospora. Signs and symptoms include diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, fever, and fatigue, the FDA said. Without treatment, the illness generally lasts from a few days to a month, but it can be treated with antibiotics.

As authorities looked for the source of the basil, they urged consumers to consult physicians and notify local health departments if they become sick after eating basil. Experts also suggested washing all fresh fruits and vegetables under running water before eating them.

Recent cyclosporiasis outbreaks have involved fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Separate outbreaks in Illinois and Texas in 2004 were believed to be associated with raw basil and mesclun salad. In addition, raw snow peas were implicated in an outbreak for the first time last year, when nearly 100 people got sick in Pennsylvania. Raspberries and strawberries have also been associated with outbreaks in the past.

See also:

Jun 3 FDA news release

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