The Elizabethkingia bacteria is spreading across the Midwest and has infected dozens of people.
The antibiotic-resistant bacteria has infected 57 in Wisconsin and one in Michigan, and claimed the lives of 18. It has been difficult to treat as no antibiotic treatment seems to work in combatting it.
What’s strange is that the bacteria is not typically found in humans — Elizabethkingia is frequently present in soil and river water. All previous outbreaks of the bacteria in humans were contracted in health care settings (hospitals, nursing homes, etc.)
Reportedly, the patients who were unable to fight off the bacterial infection all had underlying or previous health concerns and most were at least 65-years-old. As with most infections, people with weakened immune systems are at the highest risk.
While most of the patients found with the Elizabethkingia bacteria have had bloodstream infections, there have been a few people with it found in their joints or respiratory system.
The bacterial infection isn’t completely uncommon, but the number of cases is. As Dr. Holly Phillips of CBS reports, “we see five to ten cases in every state in every year.”
Symptoms to be on the lookout for are shortness of breath, chills, fever and a skin infection called cellulitis where the skin becomes inflamed with skin sores or rashes that grow rapidly. Right now, it is believed that Elizabethkingia is not able to be transmitted from person to person.
Dr. Phillips comments on the potential origins of the outbreak, explaining, “… experts are really trying to look at food sources or even personal hygiene products. Things like lotion and toothpaste. They’re really trying to turn over all the leaves so they can find out what the source might be.”
Illinois has just pledged to team up with Michigan and Wisconsin to help the CDC prevent the further spread of the bacteria. Public health officials are currently working to pinpoint the source of the outbreak.