Elizabethkingia: Mysterious Infection Is Killing People In Wisconsin

The mysterious infection presenting in both Wisconsin and Michigan has been identified as an extremely rare outbreak of Elizabethkingia. The infection was named after Elizabeth O. King, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) microbiologist who is credited with being the first person to isolate the bacterium.

The Elizabethkingia is the largest such outbreak every recorded and is growing bigger. To date, the mysterious infection has caused 50 patients in Wisconsin to become ill; 17 of those patients have died. One adult patient in Michigan has also now died from the rare blood infection.

The biggest outbreak of Elizabethkingia in recorded public health history just got bigger. Each of the patients who died after contracting the blood infection reportedly also suffered from other underlying health problems.

Michigan public health officials are currently investigating the first patient case in their state in an effort to find out exactly how the individual came into contact with the In bacteria. The bacteria, which is typically found in the soil of reservoirs and rivers, was not believed to pose harm to humans until last fall. The first cases of the mysterious infection occurred in Wisconsin in November.

When outbreaks of Elizabethkingia do happen, the cases most commonly presents in one or two cases at a time in a hospital setting. Those who have been stricken by the blood infection in the past commonly also suffered from weakened immune systems, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, reports.

During previous outbreaks of the potentially deadly infection, the incidents involved 10 or fewer patients.

Symptoms of the mysterious infection routinely include a shortness of breath, fever, and chills. According to notices by health officials in Wisconsin and Michigan, strains of the Elizabethkingia bacteria have been found in the bodies of all 18 people who died of the infection - but they are not yet ready to confirm if the fatalities were directly caused by the bacterium.

"It's one of the largest [Elizabethkingia outbreaks] that I'm aware of, and certainly the largest one we've investigated," CDC Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion Deputy Director, Michael Bell, said during an interview with the Washington Post.

In January, public health officials in Wisconsin health began investigating the Elizabethkingia outbreak. In the weeks and months following the initial research into the outbreak, health department staffers have asked for medical providers to continue to review their patient records for signs of the blood infection.

The bacteria samples taken from more than four dozen patients reportedly share the same genetic fingerprint, indicating the infection stems from the same source. Finding the source, however, has proven to be extremely difficult.

The Elizabethkingia cases have presented in 12 counties in the state, including Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Jefferson, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Sauk, Sheboygan, Washington, and Waukesha — and also the most recent case in Michigan. CDC representative Melissa Brower said the Michigan patient may have contracted the mysterious infection while visiting Wisconsin.

Brower added that the public health agency still does not know how or exactly where the patient became inflicted. None of the Elizabethkingia patients had been hospitalized or even visited the same hospital. The CDC representative said the agency is currently reviewing a host of possible bacteria risk factors, including environmental and food sources.

Do you think the Elizabethkingia mysterious infection could provoke a pandemic?

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