TALLAHASSEE, 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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