Authorities closely monitor dangerous bacteria that cause lethal melioidosis after it reaches the country’s Gulf Coast. According to the New York Post, the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) has confirmed three cases of infection from the bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei, which is typically found in soil or freshwater in tropical and subtropical climates. The infection can lead to melioidosis, a severe pneumonia-like illness that can cause fever, joint pain, and headache. The condition has a 50 percent fatality rate.
The infection has been around for a while, and it’s thought that people in the region could have been exposed to it for years. However, it is unclear how long the bacteria has been in the environment and whether it will spread to other areas. CDC’s national health advisory said clinicians should consider the possibility of melioidosis in patients who present symptoms including fever, joint pain, and headache.
Officials in Mississippi have warned the public to be aware of the risk and take precautions when visiting beaches. They are not advising residents to stay away from the sea, but immunocompromised people should avoid swimming in the water as it may contain bacteria. A Lee Health spokesperson told the Post that they should also avoid canal water as it may not flush out the lingering bacteria, and they should check their feet for any cuts after walking on sand.
The detection of the bacteria in the US Gulf Coast surprised officials as it’s typically found only in Southeast Asia, northern Australia, and parts of Central America and South America. The discovery came after two patients from Mississippi were diagnosed with melioidosis two years apart. Soil samples were taken near the patients’ homes and tested by CDC for B. pseudomallei, which was found in both.
Though the disease is rare, it can be deadly for those already sick or immunocompromised. In the US, about 12 cases of melioidosis are diagnosed every year. Most are linked to international travel to countries where the bacteria is more common.
It’s not clear how the bacteria got to the US Gulf Coast, but the CDC is trying to find out. The agency urges the public to report any unusual respiratory illness associated with the bacteria to the CDC’s hotline. In addition, they are urging anyone who has recently traveled to areas where the bacteria is more common to talk with their healthcare providers about it. People with known infections or illnesses like tuberculosis, HIV, and hepatitis C should also contact their healthcare provider, the CDC said. They should also inform their provider if they have been to the Gulf Coast and are experiencing respiratory signs or symptoms like fever, joint pain, and headache. The CDC recommends that these patients get antibiotics to prevent melioidosis. The bacteria can spread from person to person through close contacts, such as sneezing or coughing, and they may be more at risk of developing the disease if they have weakened immune systems.