Southeast District Health Department is monitoring the Nebraska outbreak of a virulent stomach parasite called cyclospora.
The parasite, typically associated with tropical areas where people ingest contaminated water or food, has sickened over 250 people in the Midwest, but none in the five counties of southeast Nebraska.
There have been 188 cases reported in Iowa, 65 in Texas and 68 in Nebraska.
Lisa Bloss, emergency response coordinator for the Southeast District, said people experience symptoms similar to stomach flu about a week after ingesting contaminated food, but said cyclospora is not a typical illness.
Bloss said the parasite causes a severe diarrheal illlness that threatens patients with hydration and electrolyte imbalance.
"If untreated, it can last up to 57 days," she said. "It isn't hype. It's a very serious illness when you have it."
At least eight people have been hospitalized, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday.
Southeast District is recommending that people with symptoms for two to three days to contact their physician.
The microscopic protozoa parasite is not transmitted human to human, but through contaminated food or water. Protozoa are tiny, one-celled animals that breathe, move and reproduce.
Nebraska officials have not identified a specific source of the cyclospora, but Bloss is urging people to wash fresh fruits and vegetables before putting them in the refrigerator.
Raspberries imported from Guatemala were responsible for a 1996 outbreak that sickened 1,465 people in the U.S. and Canada, and also for a 1997 outbreak .