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Oklahoma's investigation into food-borne parasite indicates romaine lettuce as possible culprit

A man in a plaid shirt and jeans holds  (shown mid-chest to hip) a head of romaine lettuce cut into two halves and also a knife.
Mark Stebnicki
OSDH is not recommending Oklahomans avoid a specific food right now but says romaine lettuce is a possible source for Oklahoma's cyclospora infections.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health is investigating a food-borne parasite that’s infecting more Oklahomans than usual this summer. It’s part of a nationwide uptick in cyclospora-related illness.

Cyclospora are microbes that can infect people via contaminated water or food, especially seeded berries, fresh herbs and leafy greens. The main symptom is watery diarrhea that lasts more than a week.

Normally, cases in the U.S. pick up in the summertime. But this year, they started showing up earlier, and most of the country has seen more than normal. That includes Oklahoma, where the State Health Department launched an investigation into cyclospora-related illness in May.

An OSDH spokesperson said most of the state’s cases have been in Northeastern Oklahoma. The investigation has identified romaine lettuce as a possible culprit, but the OSDH isn’t recommending Oklahomans avoid any specific foods right now.

This illness is still pretty uncommon — despite the uptick, Oklahoma has only reported between 11 and 30 cases this year, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Food & Drug Administration are also investigating increased cases of cyclospora-related illness across the country this summer.

According to OSDH recommendations, people who experience diarrhea that comes and goes or lasts longer than a week should seek medical attention, and medical providers should consider testing them for cyclospora.

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Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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