The potentially deadly bacteria was first detected in water and soil samples in the United States, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday to warn doctors and public health experts across the country to take this into account when examining patients.
The bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei have been found on the Gulf Coast of southern Mississippi. Exposure to bacteria can cause melioidosis, a “rare and serious disease” according to the CDC; about one in every 4,600 people exposed develops the disease, according to 2019 study The study also showed that about 90,000 people die each year from melioidosis.
“Once B. pseudomallei is well established in the soil, it is almost impossible to remove it from the soil,” The CDC wrote in its health advice. “Public health efforts should be focused primarily on improving case detection so that appropriate treatment can be administered.”
Samples show the bacteria has been present in the Mississippi region since at least 2020, when melioidosis was found in one person in the Gulf Coast region, although it’s not clear exactly how long Burkholderia pseudomallei, also known as B. pseudomallei, has been in the area.
The bacteria have previously been found in tropical and subtropical regions around the world, such as South and Southeast Asia, northern Australia, and parts of Central and South America. The CDC stated that modeling has shown that the climate of the southern Mississippi also favors its cultivation.
Environmental sampling in Mississippi was conducted after two patients were admitted in the area. melioidosis diagnoses two years apart – one in July 2020, the other in May 2022. The unnamed individuals were unrelated, the CDC said, but lived in “close geographic proximity” and had not recently traveled from the United States.
Genomic sequencing data showed both people were infected with the same new strain from the Western Hemisphere, officials said. Both patients were hospitalized and recovered after antibiotic therapy.
Last month, the Mississippi Department of Health and the CDC collected samples of soil, water, and plant debris from patients’ homes, household items, and nearby areas they frequented.
The bacteria can infect animals and humans through direct contact or through cuts and wounds. The risk of human-to-human transmission is low, officials said. Symptoms usually appear between one day and three weeks after infection.
Most cases of melioidosis occur outside of the United States, according to the CDC. But last year four people contracted melioidosis in four different states. after using a contaminated aromatherapy spray sold at Walmart. According to official figures, two of the four people died.
Symptoms of melioidosis are nonspecific and vary from person to person, but symptoms include fever, localized pain or swelling, chest pain, and headaches, according to the CDC. People with diabetes, excessive alcohol consumption, chronic lung disease, chronic kidney disease, and immunosuppressive conditions are more susceptible to the bacteria. Officials said prompt diagnosis and antibiotics were critical.
B. pseudomallei is not the only substance found in soil that can also cause disease.
Valley fever, also called coccidioidomycosis, is an infection caused by a fungus that lives in the soil of the southwestern United States and parts of Mexico, Central and South America. It becomes infected by inhaling microscopic fungal spores from the air, although most people who inhale the spores do not get sick, the CDC said. Approximately 20,000 cases in 2019 told the agency most of the people living in Arizona or California.