Florida, June 6, 2005 (ENS): Contaminated fresh
basil is considered to be the most likely cause of an
outbreak of the gastrointestinal illness cyclospora,
which sickened nearly 300 Floridians in March and April,
state health officials said Friday.
Officials do not know where the basil originated or
where it is being sold, said State Health Secretary
Dr. John Agwunobi.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is initiating
an investigation to determine the source of several
clusters of cyclosporiasis associated with fresh basil
served in Florida during mid-March through mid-April.
Known as a traceback, the investigation will work to
locate the source of the contaminated produce.
The Florida Department of Health asked the FDA on Thursday
to begin the traceback after results of an epidemiological
investigation implicated fresh basil as the source of
illness in Florida.
The Florida Department of Health has 293 laboratory-confirmed
cases in 32 Florida counties during March and April.
"FDA is aggressively working with our federal
and state partners to determine the source of the contaminated
product and taking appropriate action to protect the
public," said Dr. Robert Brackett, director of
the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
Doc Kokol, a spokesman for the Florida Health Department,
said, "With their experts, they'll be able to trace
this tainted or contaminated fresh basil all the way
back, hopefully to the fields, and they'll be able to
tell us where it came from," said Kokol.
Cyclospora are microscopic, one-celled organisms that
can contaminate fresh produce and burrow in the small
intestine. The illness can be treated with antibiotics
or could pass naturally within a period of a few days
up to a month.
In order to help reduce the chances of infection from
consuming fresh fruit and vegetables, federal and state
officials reminded consumers to wash all fresh fruit
and vegetables, including fresh herbs, under running
tap water before eating them.
But Kokol said that washing may not prevent cyclospora
infection. "As always, we're recommending to people
that they wash their fruits and vegetables, and, while
it may not eliminate cyclospora infection, it's just
good common sense."
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