Health care providers won’t often tell you to be wary of veggies, but lately, packaged salads sold by certain distributors have been making people sick.
The culprit is cyclospora, a parasite that causes an intestinal infection with symptoms like watery diarrhea, weight loss, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, gas, bloating, nausea and fatigue. The symptoms can be severe and last for weeks.
The infection, called cyclosporiasis, spreads by consuming food or water that has been contaminated with feces. The infection isn’t common in the U.S., but outbreaks have been linked to contaminated fresh produce. In recent months, contaminated McDonald’s salads and Del Monte vegetable trays have caused outbreaks in several states including Wisconsin. The federal Food and Drug Administration is investigating the source of the outbreaks.
Don’t be scared of salads
“It’s not necessary to completely avoid salads or produce to avoid cyclospora infection,” said Dr. Matthew Hall, a Marshfield Clinic Health System infectious disease specialist.
However, if you have heard of an outbreak near you, check your state or local public health website and follow guidance about avoiding packaged salads, veggies and wraps from certain sellers.
Be cautious if you get sick
See your doctor if you have symptoms of cyclosporiasis that last more than a few days. Let the doctor know if you’ve recently eaten a packaged salad, veggie tray or wrap.
“Testing for cyclospora isn’t routine in all labs,” Hall said. “It might be missed if your provider doesn’t know to test for it.”
Cyclosporiasis is treated with an antibiotic, unlike stomach viruses, which health care providers usually let run their course.
Drink plenty of fluids with electrolytes, like sports drinks and broth, to avoid dehydration.
“Wash your hands thoroughly and often if you have diarrhea,” Hall said. “It’s easy to spread the illness to your family, especially if you’re preparing food.”