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CDC to investigate bacterial infection that has killed 18 in Wisconsin

Since December, 44 cases of Elizabethkingia infection have been reported, mostly in older people with other underlying health issues.

By Stephen Feller
CDC to investigate bacterial infection that has killed 18 in Wisconsin
The Elizabethkingia bacteria rarely infects humans, however a recent outbreak has disease investigators unsure how people have come into contact with it. Photo by Lightspring/Shutterstock

ATLANTA, March 3 (UPI) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating 18 deaths and 44 cases of infection from Elizabethkingia in Wisconsin.

The agency is investigating how people came in contact with the bacteria, which rarely infects humans but is often antibiotic-resistant. The agency has dispatched experts to investigate.

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Most infected patients are over age 65 and have at least one other underlying illness, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Symptoms of Elizabethkingia infection include fever, shortness of breath, chills or cellulitis.

Six possible cases were reported to the state between Dec. 29 and Jan. 4, with 38 additional cases identified after statewide surveillance was set up by the agency after the initial reports.

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"At this time, the source of these infections is unknown and the department is working diligently to contain this outbreak," state officials said in a press release, adding that since surveillance was established, "there has been a rapid identification of cases and healthcare providers have been able to treat and improve outcomes for patients."

The CDC found the bacteria had a 54 percent morbidity rate during a two-year outbreak in London, determining patients were infected through water sources, and that the bacteria may be a "pseudo-emerging pathogen" based on increased number of small outbreaks and the fact that several strains were found in medical facility testing.

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Similar to the current Wisconsin outbreak, most of the patients in London were older and had other underlying health issues.

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"Determining the source of the bacteria affecting patients in Wisconsin is a complex process," Wisconsin State Health Officer Karen McKeown said in a press release. "While we recognize there will be many questions we cannot yet answer, we feel it is important to share the limited information we have about the presence of the bacteria, as we continue our work to determine the source."

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