CDC: Obscure blood infection spreads to second state

By Marilyn Malara  |  March 19, 2016 at 4:32 PM
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LANSING, Mich., March 19 (UPI) -- An unprecedented outbreak of a rare blood infection caused by the Elizabethkingia bacteria, which began in Wisconsin, has crossed into Michigan, officials said.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the case this week after a blood culture from a recently deceased patient tested positive for the bacteria, which is commonly found in the environment.

The patient in question was an older adult located in West Michigan with pre-existing health conditions, MDHHS said. In Wisconsin, the infection is suspected to have caused 17 deaths out of 54 known cases.

"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," said the state's health department chief medical executive, Dr. Eden Wells.

"Timely diagnosis is key to ensuring patients receive appropriate treatment, and we will continue to provide updates and guidance as additional information becomes available," he added.

Elizabethkingia bacteria -- named after the CDC biologist who first isolated it -- is usually found in soil, river water and reservoirs. It is said to only rarely make people sick, causing illness primarily in those with already compromised immune systems or other serious health conditions.

Symptoms of the blood infection include shortness of breath, fever, chills and cellulitis. The Michigan Health Department notes the infection is difficult to treat with antibiotics as the bacteria are usually resistant. Medical professionals are urged to look out for early signs of the infection.

An outbreak of the bloodstream infection caused by the bacteria in Wisconsin started late last year and has sickened 54 people since November. Seventeen of those patients are now dead, although direct causes of their deaths remain unclear.

A majority of the patients affected are over age 65 and have pre-existing health conditions, officials said.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services said it is continuing its investigation into the issue in coordination with the Division of Public Health and the CDC. The agencies are reportedly conducting site visits and collecting samples from private homes and health care facilities in order to track down a potential source of the bacteria.

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