Local fruit appears free of nausea-causing microbe No outbreaks linked to Maryland produce

July 09, 1996|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Local health and food experts say recent outbreaks of a parasitic infection that may be associated with consumption of fresh fruits is not likely to affect Maryland produce.

Since May, several hundred cases of the cyclospora infection, which causes flu-like symptoms, have been identified in at least 10 states and Ontario.

"This has no effect on Maryland produce whatsoever," said Jon Traunfeld, a regional specialist in fruits and vegetables with the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service. "It's not being found on any kind of berries, fruit or vegetables grown in Maryland."

State health officials say there have been five confirmed cases of cyclospora in Maryland but that it is unclear whether any of the illnesses are connected to fruit consumption, said Tori Leonard, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Len Dietz, packinghouse supervisor with Baugher's Orchard in Westminster, said he offers a standard response when customers express concern about the parasite.

"When I go out in the orchard, I'm popping that stuff in my mouth all day long, and I feel fine," Dietz said. "If anybody would have been sick by now, it probably would have been me."

The organism, Cyclospora cayetanensis, is a one-celled parasite that infects the small intestine. Symptoms, which appear about a week after infection, include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches and a low-grade fever. The infection is treated with antibiotics.

Outbreaks of cyclospora were initially thought to be associated with fresh strawberries, but health officials are focusing their investigation on raspberries from Guatemala, said Donald Schlimme, a professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Maryland College Park.

"No one yet knows for certain where this rascal is coming from," said Schlimme. "My own personal opinion is that this organism is presently on produce being imported from areas where the parasite is most prevalent."

He said cyclospora infection is commonly found in South America, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean.

"The percentage of produce consumed weekly in the United States that would have the organism is probably less than 0.1 percent," Schlimme said.

The first known human cases of cyclospora infection were diagnosed in 1977. The number of reported cases increased in the mid-1980s, but that rise may have resulted from improved detection techniques.

Although there are many questions about how the parasite is transmitted, Schlimme said the most common method of infection is fecal contamination of water used on crops.

Before this year, there had been three reported outbreaks of cyclospora infection in the United States.

The federal Food and Drug Administration is advising people to thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables with cold water.

As an added precaution, Schlimme suggests soaking produce in a gallon of cold water mixed with a quarter teaspoon of bleach and vinegar for 5 to 10 minutes. That will kill most organisms on the surface of the food, he said.

Pub Date: 7/09/96

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