CAPITAL REGION -- The state Department of Health and several county health departments across the Capital Region are investigating an outbreak of cyclosporiasis, a gastrointestinal illness.
The outbreak has been traced to three locations, including a catered post-commencement reception last month at Union College President David Harris' residence on the Schenectady college's campus.
The Albany, Montgomery, Saratoga and Schenectady counties public health offices are also involved in the investigation, state health officials said.
Cyclosporiasis is a gastrointestinal illness caused by the microscopic parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis, the state Health Department said. People can become infected by consuming food or water contaminated with the parasite, which is associated with fecal contamination. The federal government says it is most commonly linked to imported fresh produce.
To date, in the current outbreak the state Health Department said there are 11 laboratory-confirmed cases, with illnesses starting in mid-June. The likely total is higher, though, since many cyclosporiasis cases go unreported.
Interviews with all the cases are ongoing, but the Health Department said it has already been determined that multiple victims ate at locations including the buffet at Union College, the Prime Life Restaurant at Beltrone Senior Living Community Center in Colonie, and the Italian American Community Center in Albany.
Union College said it is cooperating with the investigation.
"On June 16, we hosted a luncheon following commencement for approximately 180 invited guests and their families at the President's House," college spokesman Phillip Wajda said on Friday. "Subsequently, a number of guests reported that they were feeling ill with gastrointestinal issues."
The college contacted the Schenectady County Health Department as well as passing word to all who attended to see their health care provider if they experienced gastrointestinal problems.
"We continue to work diligently with our dining services provider, American Dining Creations, state and local health officials, the college statement said. "We apologize to our guests for this unfortunate situation."
The state Health Department said there is no indication that the illnesses are related to poor food handling or preparation, and each of the establishments is fully cooperating with the investigation. Additional establishments may be identified as the investigation continues, the department said.
Contamination of produce with Cyclospora often occurs prior to arrival at food distribution centers and restaurants, the department said. It's a type of contamination that is not easily removed by standard produce rinsing.
The Health Department said it is closely monitoring an increase in cases of cyclosporiasis statewide and nationally, unrelated to the investigation in the Capital Region.
As of June 24, 23 laboratory-confirmed cases of cyclosporiasis had been reported since May 1 to Centers of Disease Control from 10 states and New York City. The CDC said cyclosporiasis cases typically rise in the summer months. The June 24 figure does not include the new reports from the Capital Region.
In 2018, the CDC reported nearly 2,300 cases nationally, with two large outbreaks tied to produce.
Outbreaks of Cyclosporiasis have often been associated with imported fresh produce. The illness typically results in watery diarrhea, and can include loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach cramps, bloating, nausea and fatigue. These symptoms can appear approximately one or two weeks after ingestion of the contaminated source. If untreated, symptoms can last as long as a month or longer and can return one or more times. Infection is generally not transmitted directly from person-to-person.
DOH recommends that individuals with diarrhea for three or more days and any of the above symptoms contact their healthcare provider. Antibiotics may be needed to treat infected people.
An alert has been issued to local health care providers to notify them of an increase in reports of cyclosporiasis and to advise them of methods of testing and treatment for people who may show symptoms consistent with this infection.