ALBANY — State and federal health authorities are warning people not to eat fresh basil imported from Mexico, as it’s been linked to a multistate outbreak of foodborne illness that appears to be concentrated in the Capital Region.
Since May, at least 84 people have become sick after eating fresh basil at Capital Region establishments or events, the state Health Department confirmed Friday.
With the help of state and local health officials, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Food and Drug Administration were able to trace the basil back to a Mexican distributor called Siga Logistics de RL de DV. On Thursday, they issued advisories warning people not to eat basil from this company and warning restaurants and retailers not to serve or sell it.
“If consumers cannot determine if the basil is from this company, they should avoid basil from Mexico,” the FDA said. “If they do not know what country the basil is from, they should avoid it.”
The FDA is working with Siga Logistics to facilitate a voluntary recall of the basil, and has increased import screening on the product as well.
Basil from the company has apparently sickened 132 people across 11 states with cyclosporiasis, a gastrointestinal illness that is typically contracted after ingesting feces-contaminated food or water. It causes watery diarrhea approximately one to two weeks later, and may also cause appetite loss, weight loss, stomach cramps, bloating, nausea and fatigue.
Cyclosporiasis in the U.S. is typically associated with imported fresh produce from tropical or subtropical countries where the illness is endemic.
The illness appears to be on the rise both in New York and nationwide. Reports typically increase each year around May, and peak between June and July, though activity can last as late as September, according to the CDC.
As of Friday, there have been 222 cases reported in New York outside of New York City since May, according to the state Department of Health.
Eighty-four cases are associated with exposure to basil in the greater Capital Region, the department said, including 34 in Albany County, 29 in Saratoga County, 10 in Schenectady County, and fewer than five each in Columbia, Greene, Montgomery, Rensselaer and Warren counties.
Albany County Department of Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen said Friday there have been 37 cases linked to basil in the county, and 44 cases overall. The differing state and county-provided numbers may reflect a lag in reporting.
Five people have been hospitalized in the county, Whalen said. They were either senior citizens or individuals with previous medical conditions, she said.
State and local health departments have notified health care providers to be on the lookout for reported symptoms of cyclosporiasis, and to advise them in appropriate methods of testing and treatment.
In general, cyclosporiasis is a self-limiting illness — meaning it ultimately runs its course without treatment. However, symptoms can last a month or longer, or return one or more times if left untreated. Antibiotics can be prescribed to flush it out faster.
Health officials urge anyone who experiences prolonged diarrhea to contact and get evaluated by a health care provider.