The medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health says she would be amazed if there are no cases in the Quad-Cities of a serious gastrointestinal illness that has sickened two dozen people around the state.

The department is tracking 25 cases of the illness, caused by a parasite called cyclospora. Cases have been officially reported in 10 counties, the closest being in Linn and Des Moines counties, and Dr. Patricia Quinlisk said Tuesday that it is logical to assume there also are some local ones that have not been diagnosed and reported.

The cyclospora outbreak is caused by eating contaminated fresh produce. An untreated case will give a person diarrhea for an average of 57 days.

"The people who I've talked to with this are pretty sick and really wanting treatment," added Quinlisk, who is also the state epidemiologist.

She said that affected people were being reported "every few minutes" at the state agency's headquarters in Des Moines.

"This is not a mild form of diarrhea," she said. "People who get this get extreme fatigue and loss of appetite."

A special test must be given to confirm the presence of cyclospora in the first place, Quinlisk said. It is not evident with the two most common tests used in typical diarrhea cases. 

She said the lack of that special test is probably why there are not more reports around Iowa.

Further, this type of diarrhea is effectively treated with an antibiotic, whereas that medication is not used for other types of diarrhea.

The illness has also been found in Nebraska and other Midwestern states. There have been three cases reported in Illinois, all in the state's northeast region, but none since May, said Melaney Arnold of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The state of Iowa still does not know what food should be implicated in the outbreak or how it was distributed. But Quinlisk urged residents to wash fresh fruits and vegetables carefully before they are eaten.

"However, it can be very difficult to wash cyclospora off all types of produce, like strawberries," she said.

Most of the illnesses in Iowa began in June, and at least one person was hospitalized as a result. Many people are still ill and some have had relapses.

"There may be a lot of suffering out there," Quinlisk said.

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