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Health Officials Working To Identify How Stomach Bug Outbreak Began

PITTSBURGH (CBS) -- Health officials in two states have zeroed in on what's making hundreds of people sick with a stomach bug. But investigators still don't know what's triggering cases in 13 other states.

Prepackaged salad is the culprit behind a stomach bug outbreak in Nebraska and Iowa. The mix in question includes iceberg and romaine lettuce, along with red cabbage and carrots.

But officials are still trying to pinpoint specific brands.

So far, the bug called Cyclospora has made more than 350 people sick in 15 states. The rare parasite causes severe diarrhea and flu-like symptoms.

"The illness will start several days after you have ingested the contaminated food," said Dr. William Schaffner, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "Only a minority of patients have fever, some abdominal cramps, nausea."

While investigators have zeroed in on the source of contamination in Iowa and Nebraska they say it's not clear if other illnesses around the country are linked to salad mix.

Health experts say washing your fruits and vegetables may be the best way to help protect yourself against food borne illnesses like Cyclospora.

"The notion is that this type of contamination is on the outside of the product so washing them thoroughly reduces your risk of illness and it's just a good day in day out recommendation," said Dr. Schaffner.

Washing hands, utensils and surfaces with soap and water before and after you prepare a meal is also key.

Officials say the salad mix in the latest outbreak came through national distribution chains.

The FDA says it's working intensely to identify how the outbreak began and whether the cases are tied to one source such as the same farmer or producer.

The CDC reports that most of the illnesses were reported between mid-June and early July. If you haven't gotten sick yet, health officials say you're probably in the clear.

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