Wisconsin Bacteria Outbreak: Health Officials Baffled By Elizabethkingia Bacteria Outbreak

The Wisconsin bacteria outbreak of Elizabethkingia anophelis bacteria has health officials scrambling to find the source. The bacteria outbreak is no longer staying in Wisconsin. The bacteria has crossed the borders into Illinois and Michigan, where it has taken two lives in those states. IDPH Director Nirav D. Shah, M.D., J.D. comments on what is being done about this rare bacteria outbreak.

“Illinois is working closely with the CDC and Wisconsin and Michigan health officials to investigate this outbreak and develop ways to prevent additional infections. IDPH will continue to coordinate with hospitals and health care providers to quickly identify and report cases of Elizabethkingia.”

It has been reported that the outbreak, which started in Wisconsin, consists of 57 patients who have been confirmed to have been infected with the Elizabethkingia bacteria in the Badger State. Out of those 57 Wisconsin cases, 18 people have died. The bacteria has mainly been focused on people who are elderly or who have a compromised immune system.

The majority of people who have found themselves infected by Elizabethkingia have had the bacteria located in their bloodstream. In rare instances, the bacteria has also been found in the joints and respiratory system. This bacteria is not unknown to health officials. Every year, a handful of cases occur. Doctor Chad Achenbach of Northwestern medicine explains further.

“Typically in a given year in the United States, we see 5 to 10 infections in humans with this bacteria. And over just the past few months there’s been nearly 60 cases in just three states. It does have a fairly high, what we would call a case fatality rate of nearly one third of those infected.”

Elizabethkingia bacteria is common in nature. Found in water and soil, Elizabethkingia bacteria rarely causes infections. Health officials are acquiring samples from all different areas that this bacteria is normally found. As of now, officials have not been able to isolate the strain that is causing the outbreak. CDC Director Thomas Frieden has been able to state that they are certain the bacteria causing the outbreak is not in the water supply.

“To date, we have assessed and ruled out high-threat sources such as municipal water supplies, commonly used medical products and tools.”

Information on the death of the Illinois woman has been scarce. It has been released that the woman who died from the Elizabethkingia bacteria did have an underlying health condition. The woman who died in Michigan last month had underlying health conditions and was said to be older in age.

Health officials have directed hospitals that have confirmed cases of this deadly bacteria to keep samples and alert the CDC. Patients present with symptoms of fever, chills, cellulitis, and shortness of breath are prime candidates to have the bacteria in their system. Confirmation of Elizabethkingia bacteria can only be acquired through lab testing. If detected early enough, Elizabethkingia bacteria can be treated with a variety of antibiotics.

Elizabethkingia anophelis was first identified in 2011 from a sample collected from a mosquito in Gambia. When the Wisconsin outbreak began, it was initially thought that Elizabethkingia meningoseptica was the cause until it was confirmed that the anophelis version was the culprit. Even though it is currently attacking the elderly and ill, Elizabethingia anophelis has been responsible for neonatal meningitis in the Central African Republic. Due to the bacteria being first seen in a mosquito, it is not yet known if mosquitos are able to transmit the virus.

Will the Wisconsin bacteria outbreak spread outside of the Midwest?

[Image Via Shutterstock/science photo]