MACON, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) - Four people in the Peach State are showing signs of a nasty parasite infection that could be linked to a nationwide outbreak. Health officials say there are simple ways that you can keep your food safe and avoid it.
Cyclosporiasis—that is a big name for this tiny parasite and it is popping up all over the country.
"We are seeing an increase in cases from the normal average," Amber Erickson, the North Central Health District Epidemiologist, said.
According to the latest numbers from the CDC, 400 people in 16 states have contracted the disease and two states linked it to bagged lettuce. Erickson says there are no cases here in Middle Georgia, but there are four confirmed cases in the Peach State.
"On average in a year we get about 10 cases [in Georgia] and so right now we don't know if these cases are involved in the outbreak."
It's caused by eating or drinking something that is contaminated by the parasite.
"Stool gets into the vegetables and then you don't wash the vegetables very well and then you eat the vegetables that are contaminated with stool," Dr. Rodrigo Hasbun with the University of Texas Health Medical School said.
Symptoms include diarrhea, loss of appetite, nausea, and fatigue.
"It causes watery diarrhea that can cause dehydration and other problems that come with that that can lead to hospitalization," Erickson said.
The best way to avoid this nasty bug is to wash your hands properly—that is 20 seconds in warm water with soap. Also wash your fruits and vegetables, even if they are pre-packaged.
"Don't trust them. You don't know in that prepackaged lettuce may be five different types of lettuce all washed at different times and then prepackaged, so its always best to wash everything," Erickson said.
Health investigators aren't sure the nationwide cases are part of the same outbreak, but Erickson urges everyone to take precautionary measures with your health and food.
To be clear, there are no cases of cyclosporiasis here in Middle Georgia. Erickson says you don't have to stop eating lettuce, just make sure you clean it.
The last time there was a clyclospora outbreak was back in 2000 and it was linked to berries.