Rare blood infection outbreak continues; source remains mystery

Posted at 9:32 PM, Mar 19, 2016

The rare blood infection Elizabethkingiam, which has sickened dozens in Wisconsin since November, has been identified in a Michigan resident, the Michigan Department of Health said Thursday.

The older adult with underlying health conditions died as a result of the infection. No other details were released about the patient.

There have been 54 cases reported to the Wisconsin Department of Public Health.

“The majority of patients acquiring this infection are over the age of 65, and all patients have a history of at least one underlying serious illness,” a statement from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said.

Seventeen of those individuals have died, although it is not confirmed that the infection was the cause of death or the patients’ underlying health conditions.

The bacteria is commonly found in soil, river water and reservoirs but does not commonly cause illness in humans. People with compromised immune systems or serious underlying health conditions are more at risk of infection. Previous outbreaks have been associated with healthcare settings.

The infection is often antibiotic resistant and therefore difficult to treat.

Symptoms of Elizabethkingia infection include fever, shortness of breath, chills and a bacterial skin infection called cellulitis.

Health officials in Wisconsin have been working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate this outbreak but have not yet identified the source. Michigan is now part of that effort.

“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,” Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement.

CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said the case in Michigan is not a complete surprise, given that health departments across the country were asked to be on the lookout for Elizabethkingia infections after the outbreak in Wisconsin was identified.

The CDC team continues to work in Wisconsin.

“The work is labor-intensive. Lots of people are working around the clock, a very wide net has been cast looking at lots of different possibilities,” Skinner said.

He said they’ll continue in hopes of solving this outbreak but noted that they aren’t able to solve every outbreak.