Health officials warn popular Mexican food garnish could make you sick


According to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), the virulent stomach bug is called cyclosporiasis and it has sickened 68 people around the state, so far. There were 148 cases of cyclosporiasis illness in 2016.

This parasitic condition gets its name from the microscopic organism Cyclospora, which spreads through human feces and, in doing so, can contaminate the food and water supply. Texas reported 351 cyclosporiasis in 2013; 200 in 2014; and 316 in 2015.

"The little particles that stick to produce and stick to other things are really, really sticky and really hard to wash off", says Chris Van Deusen, Department of State Health Services. Health care providers are asked to promptly report cases so public health can investigate them and attempt to determine the source in order to head off future cases. Cyclosporiasis is characterized by "profuse" watery diarrhea that can last days, weeks, or months.

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Past outbreaks in the United States have been associated with consumption of imported fresh produce, including fresh pre-packaged salad mix, raspberries, basil, snow peas, and mesclun greens; Texas has had multiple outbreaks linked to cilantro. Thorough washing of produce is recommended, but may not eliminate the risk because cyclospora can be hard to watch off. Only cooking kills the parasite. Symptoms of Cyclospora are described as diarrhea lasting for a few days to a few months, loss of appetite, fatigue, weight loss and abdominal cramps.

Numerous previous cases in Texas have been linked to cilantro, a common garnish found in Mexican and Asian food.