An outbreak of diarrhea in west St. Louis County could be caused by contaminated lettuce, tomatoes or cilantro, according to the county health department.
There have been 22 cases of cyclosporiasis, a stomach illness caused by a parasite, reported in Ballwin, Chesterfield and Fenton since the end of May. All of the cases were in residents ages 21 to 80, health officials said.
It is not clear whether the county outbreak is connected to an alert earlier this month that seven people in the state were sickened by the same parasite after eating salads at McDonald’s restaurants. McDonald’s stopped selling the salads in 3,000 fast food restaurants in 14 states to try to contain the outbreak.
Cyclospora parasites live in feces and can spread through contaminated food or water. The illness causes watery, frequent and explosive diarrhea and can also include stomach cramps, bloating, gas, nausea, fatigue and weight loss. The illness can be treated with antibiotics, but dehydration becomes a concern in severe cases.
The exact cause of the outbreak has not been uncovered, but many of the people who were sickened reported eating lettuce, tomatoes, and cilantro, and at least 13 said they ate packaged salads.
“There are simple steps people can take to prevent the transmission of cyclosporiasis, and as we see a rise in case numbers, it is vital that community members become more vigilant in following these precautions,” said Dr. Fred Echols, county director of communicable disease control, in a statement.
Health officials recommend diligent hand washing with soap and water before and after handling and preparing food, along with all surfaces that the food touches.