Parasitic illness blamed in 22 St. Louis County cases

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. - There’s a new warning from the St. Louis County Department of Public Health: an illness traced to premade salads is hitting west St. Louis County.

At least 22 people have gotten sick since the end of May.

The health department reports most of those cases originated in the Ballwin, Chesterfield, and Fenton areas. In 13 of the 22 cases, people have recently eaten premade salads. All of them report eating lettuce, tomato, and cilantro. The people who got sick ranged in age from 21 to 80.

They’ve become infected with a parasite called Cyclospora. The illness is called Cyclosporiasis. Symptoms include cramps, potentially severe diarrhea, dehydration, and fatigue.

Washing fruits and vegetables under running water, along with washing your hands and food prep surfaces—like cutting boards—with soap and warm water are your best defenses. You should wash those surfaces in between the different foods you prepare.

“Not washing your hands after you to go the bathroom and then touching food or eating food…that’s the most common way that it’s transmitted, through what’s called the fecal-oral route,” said Dr. Fred Echols, the St. Louis County Department of Public Health’s director of communicable disease control services. “In some way, the food or liquid has become contaminated with feces containing the parasite.”

In the past week, the FDA and CDC confirmed 61 cases in 7 states, including Missouri and Illinois, all linked to salads from McDonald’s restaurants.

McDonald’s has pulled salads from 3,000 restaurants; none in St. Louis County.

The company has released the following statement:

“McDonald’s has been in contact with public health authorities from Iowa and Illinois about an increase in Cyclospora infections in those states. Out of an abundance of caution, we decided to voluntarily stop selling salads at impacted restaurants until we can switch to another lettuce blend supplier. We are in the process of removing existing lettuce blend from identified restaurants and distribution centers – which includes approximately 3,000 of our U.S. restaurants primarily located in the Midwest. Of the 3,000 restaurants, at least one is located in the following states: IL, IA, IN, WI, MI, OH, MN, NE, SD, MT, ND, KY, WV, and MO.

“McDonald’s is committed to the highest standards of food safety and quality control. We are closely monitoring this situation and cooperating with state and federal public health authorities as they further investigate.”

There’s no confirmed link in St. Louis County but it was too early to rule it out, Dr. Echols said.