Deadly Bacterium Declared ‘Locally Endemic’ Along Part of Gulf Coast

An airboat (Tour Tram on the left) and two canoes in the Myakka River State Park An airboat (Tour Tram on the left) and two canoes in the Myakka River State Park, Florida. (Independent Picture Service/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Independent Picture Service/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered a bacterium that causes a disease with a roughly 50% fatality rate living in soil and stagnant water along part of the 1,600 miles of United States Gulf Coast and have declared it “locally endemic” in those areas.

B. pseudomallei causes Melioidosis, which has a wide range of symptoms, often causing a misdiagnosis of the disease for something else. Symptoms include “fever, joint pain, and headaches and [it] can cause conditions that include pneumonia, abscess formation, or blood infections,” according to the CDC.

The bacteria will attack various organs, often causing abscesses.

Many patients will also suffer from sepsis, according to Julia Petras, an epidemic intelligence service officer with CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.

“This is one of those diseases that is also called the great mimicker because it can look like a lot of different things,” Petras told U.S. News. “It’s greatly under-reported and under-diagnosed and under-recognized — we often like to say that it’s been the neglected, neglected tropical disease.”

According to Petras, around the world there are estimated to be 160,000 cases a year and 80,000 deaths.

The first reported case in the United States showed up in Mississippi in May 2020, followed by one in July 2020, with the most recent one in January of this year. The patients all recovered, and all three cases were found in the same Mississippi county, the New York Post reported.

Petras said the treatment is extensive, but if detected early, a patient’s prognosis should be good.

“There are specific antibiotics to treat this organism. Meropenem (Merrem) and ceftazidime (Fortaz) are the ones recommended for IV use and then amoxicillin is given via pills for the second phase, Petras told U.S. News. “We have antibiotics that work,” she said. “What I’m talking about is IV antibiotics for at least two weeks, followed by three to six months of oral antibiotics.”

The infection is reportedly acquired via exposure to contaminated soil or fresh water through open wounds or inhaled from high winds. There are only two known cases in the world of the bacteria being transferred between humans.

Petra said those with liver disease or diabetes are at a higher risk of complications. Binge drinking is another risk factor for the infection.

Some scientists claim that climate change may be a factor in bringing this bacteria to the United States. The bacteria was first found in Australia and Thailand, Petras said.

The CDC recommends those living or vacationing in the Gulf Coast region protect themselves from any open wounds, stay out of high winds, and wear gloves when gardening.


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