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Outbreak of foodborne parasite spreading across US

July 25, 2013 at 9:54 AM ET

Video: Intestinal issues caused by a parasite called Cyclospora are popping up around the U.S. Doctors have yet to identify the source but it is most commonly spread by fruit and vegetables. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

As the number of people sickened by a parasite that causes intestinal illness rose to 285, Dr. Nancy Snyderman offered this simple yet vitally important advice on TODAY Thursday: Wash your hands and wash your produce.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating an outbreak of cyclospora infection, which has affected people in at least nine states from New Jersey to Texas. Ten people reportedly have been hospitalized because of the parasite, and most cases have occurred since mid-June through early July.

“The cyclospora parasite can be nasty, causing flu-like symptoms that can last up to a month, and doctors say this outbreak is spreading,” said Snyderman, NBC’s chief medical editor.

Although the source of the outbreak has not been identified and it is not known whether the cases are connected, Snyderman said the infection is most commonly contracted by eating tainted fruits and vegetables. With so much produce being imported across states lines and from other countries, she urged consumers to check the origin of their produce and clean the fruits and veggies thoroughly.

“You’re not going to get this, most likely, from your local farmer’s market,” she told TODAY’s Matt Lauer. “A lot of times, these things come from other countries, so read those product labels well. Even when you get those pre-washed greens, don’t believe it. Wash them again.”

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