Rare bacteria that cause deadly infections found on U.S. soil, water

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:


  • A rare bacteria that can cause potentially deadly infections have been discovered in U.S. soil and water for the first time.
  • The bacteria cause the disease melioidosis which is now considered endemic in the Gulf Coast region of Mississippi.
  • The CDC advises at-risk residents to take extra precautions as patients are exposed to the bacteria by touching contaminated dirt or puddles.

A potentially deadly bacteria has been detected in U.S. soil and water for the first time, triggering the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue a health advisory on Wednesday to healthcare workers to be on the lookout for symptoms in patients.  

The bacteria, called Burkholderia pseudomallei, cause a rare disease called melioidosis that has killed 10 to 50% of people who’ve caught it in various outbreaks around the world, the CDC said in a health advisory.

The bacteria were identified in soil and water in the Gulf Coast region of southern Mississippi, during an investigation into two unrelated melioidosis cases, which were diagnosed in 2020 and 2022. Both were hospitalized and recovered after treatment with antibiotics, the CDC said.

The bacteria, which typically lives in tropical and subtropical climates outside of the continental US, is now considered endemic in certain areas of the region, the CDC added.

People can get infected with Burkholderia pseudomallei through direct contact with contaminated soil, or water through cuts in the skin, inhalation, or ingestion. But the risk of spread from person to person was “extremely low,” the CDC said

 Any organ, including the brain, is vulnerable to melioidosis. Symptoms vary depending on the part of the body affected. 

Symptoms include fever, localized pain or swelling, ulcers, abscesses, cough, chest pain, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, weight loss, tummy discomfort, muscle or joint pain, confusion, headache, and seizures.

Generally, it takes two to four weeks after exposure to the bacteria for symptoms to develop, but it can be as quick as an hour. In 5% of cases, symptoms develop years after exposure, according to the CDC.

People with certain underlying health conditions, including diabetes, chronic lung or kidney disease, and any condition that weakens the immune system are most likely to get sick or die from melioidosis.

Burkholderia pseudomallei is often found in places such as Thailand, northern Australia, and Puerto Rico.

An average of 12 melioidosis cases are reported to the CDC each year, but most patients have recently traveled to a country where the bacteria is endemic, the CDC said. The two Mississippi cases hadn’t traveled outside of the US, it said.

The samples suggest that the bacteria has been present in the region since at least 2020, but it’s unclear for how long and whether it’s spread to other parts of the country.

Source: NBC News

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