TUESDAY, Aug. 27 (HealthDay News) -- The Mexican farm linked -- in part -- to a stomach bug outbreak that has sickened more than 600 people in 22 U.S. states can resume operations, even though the source of the infections remains undiscovered, U.S. health officials said Tuesday.
Taylor Farms de Mexico can resume operations after investigators found conditions there "in accordance with known food safety protocols," the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said. The operation voluntarily shut down earlier this month after its salad mix served at Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants was linked to 242 cyclospora infections in Iowa and Nebraska, the Associated Press reported.
The number of infections now stands at 610 illnesses in 22 states. At least 43 people, or 7 percent, have been hospitalized with severe cases of infection. No deaths have been reported, according to statistics released Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The outbreak is unusual because U.S. investigators haven't been able to trace all 610 illnesses back to one source, and the farm in Mexico showed no signs of contamination, the AP said.
The source of the outbreak in at least two states -- Iowa and Nebraska -- was traced earlier this month to Taylor Farms de Mexico, the Mexican branch of Taylor Farms of Salinas, Calif.
"To date, only the salad mix has been implicated in the outbreak of cyclosporiasis in Iowa and Nebraska," the FDA said earlier this month.
Cases of cyclosporiasis are caused by a single-celled parasite and can't be spread from person to person. The parasite has to be ingested through contaminated water or foods such as fruit and vegetables, according to the CDC.
While cyclospora can make people very ill, it is not usually life-threatening, one health expert said.
"On the infectious disease scale, this ranks well below the more notorious and dangerous ailments like E. coli and salmonella," said Dr. Lewis Marshall Jr., chairman of the outpatient services at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in New York City.
"It is unlikely to be fatal, but certainly can make one's life miserable," he added. "Symptoms include crampy abdominal pain, watery diarrhea, loss of appetite, bloating, nausea, fatigue, fever, headache and body aches."
He added: "The safest way to protect oneself and one's family is to always rinse fresh produce under water, and even put vegetables in a cold water bath ahead of time to properly clean them."
That wash-your-produce rule includes prepackaged salads too, another doctor said.
"Wash all your fruits and salads before ingesting," said Dr. Salvatore Pardo, vice chairman of the emergency department at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. "My hunch is the public does not do this to 'prepackaged' salad, which is normally purchased for convenience and dumped into the bowl since it tends to be free from particles -- dirt, sand, critters -- one would normally find in locally picked ingredients."
For more on cyclospora, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.