Elizabethkingia: Rare Blood Infection Spreads To Neighboring Michigan

Elizabethkingia is a rare condition. It doesn't normally effect humans, and is found in river water and soil. So why is the disease sweeping the Midwest?

Since November, there have been 54 cases of Elizabethkingia in the state of Wisconsin. Seventeen of the those patients have died of causes either related to the disease or directly from the disease, and health practitioners are just as much at a loss as what to do as many in the public when comes to pronouncing this new threat.

"The majority of patients acquiring this infection are over the age of 65, and all patients have a history of at least one underlying serious illness," said the Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services in a statement.

But the fact that Elizabethkingia only seems to effect those with a compromised immune system, such as the elderly and the recently recovered, is not the strangest part. Health administrators have little-to-no clue as to the source of the infection, and all efforts to narrow it down have been fruitless.

"CDC is also assisting Wisconsin with testing of samples from a variety of potential sources, including health care products, water sources and the environment. To date, none of these have been found to be a source of the bacteria."

Now, Elizabethkingia is making its way into the state of Michigan, according to CNN. The infection is antibiotic resistant and difficult to treat, so the sooner physicians know what they are dealing with in a patient the better. Once practitioners know what to expect, they can prevent Elizabethkingia from advancing further within the patient or in its advance to other patients.

"The Department has alerted health care providers, infection preventionists and laboratories statewide and provided information as well as treatment guidance for this outbreak. After that initial guidance was sent, there has been a rapid identification of cases and healthcare providers have been able to treat and improve outcomes for patients."

Symptoms of Elizabethkingia infection include fever, shortness of breath, chills and a bacterial skin infection called cellulitis.

Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said in a recent statement about the spread of the disease.

"Michigan has worked closely with the CDC and Wisconsin Health Department to alert our provider community about the Wisconsin outbreak and to ensure early recognition of potential cases in our state."
Tom Skinner is a spokesman for the CDC and said that the disease spreading into Michigan is no surprise. Health departments across the country have been on the lookout for the Elizabethkingia and prepared to deal with the outbreak as effectively as possible. It isn't abnormal for outbreaks of this disease to happen, but Skinner does say that this is the largest outbreak to happen at once. Deadly outbreaks are relatively uncommon for the United States and other developed nations. Elizabethkingia is specifically dangerous to a certain demographic, that is necessary to contain.

"The work is labor-intensive. Lots of people are working around the clock, a very wide net has been cast looking at lots of different possibilities."

The infection may effect people in different ways, so identifying the disease by the symptoms is unreliable and requires lab testing to confirm. University of Wisconsin Infection Control Medical Director Nasia Safdar explains what to look for.
"It's because you have bacteria in the blood stream, depending on the sight of the infection, if it's pneumonia you would have respiratory issues, a skin infection, you might see redness at the wound."
The threat of Elizabethkingia only effects a certain demographic, but of that demographic, roughly 32 percent of cases have been fatal. But health officials do not appear to be taking the outbreak lightly, regardless of the relatively low numbers of cases.

[Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images]