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Killer Bacteria Sicken, Kill People In Wisconsin: What To Know About Elizabethkingia Anophelis

A killer bacterium called Elizabethkingia anophelis has sickened and killed people in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), Division of Public Health (DPH) is now conducting investigations, but is yet to determine the source of what seems like a mysterious infection.

"At this time, the source of these infections is unknown and the Department is working diligently to contain this outbreak," the DHS writes.

The Elizabethkingia Anophelis Outbreak In Wisconsin

From Nov. 1, 2015 to March 16 of this year, DPH has received a total of 54 case reports of Elizabethkingia anophelis. Majority of the patients reported are aged 65 years old and above and have a history of at least one serious illness.

Among the counties affected by the infection include Columbia, Milwaukee, Ozaukee and Washington, among many others.

DPH says the case counts are still ongoing and it will update its records every Wednesday. This means that counts may change from time to time as more infections are detected via laboratory examinations.

DPH has already informed health care facilities, infection prevention specialists and laboratories throughout the state about the situation. The agency has also given information and treatment guidance to these centers for reference.

The intervention seems to be reaping positive results as there have been fast identification of cases, more efficient treatment and improved patient conditions since the information has been disseminated.

What Is Elizabethkingia Anophelis?

Elizabethkingia anophelis was first discovered in mosquitoes in 2011. The disease has been associated with meningitis among infants and hospital-related disease.

The mode of transmission of the bacteria is yet to be confirmed, but experts say the infection cannot be transferred from person to person. The main sources of bacteria being considered at present are food supply, medication system, water supply and dirt.

The bacteria's name was derived from Dr. Elizabeth King from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who studied meningitis among infants in 1959.

Signs And Symptoms Of Elizabethkingia Anophelis

The clinical presentation of patients with Elizabethkingia anophelis infection is just like any other bacterial infection such that they experience fever, chills, shortness of breath and cellulitis, which is a type of skin infection.

Diagnosis And Treatment Of The Infection

Elizabethkingia anophelis may be detected via microbiology laboratory testings. Blood or body fluid samples of suspected patients may be used to grow the bacteria in different laboratory dish environments to identify that it is indeed present.

Elizabethkingia anophelis is a bacterial infection and thus should be treated with antibiotics. However, the strain of the bacteria seems to be unresponsive to standard drugs. Fortunately, combination antibiotic therapies appear effective and are usually recommended.

CDC Action

In February, the health department of Wisconsin has called on the CDC for assistance. The agency has sent a team of seven personnel to the state.

As per initial investigations, CDC thought that the bacteria mainly originate from tap water. In January, the agency has issued a report about an Elizabethkingia outbreak in a London critical care ward. Turns out, the outbreak was due to contaminated tap water in hospital sinks. However, the tap water in Wisconsin tested negative for the bacteria in laboratory examinations.

As investigating the medical records of a single hospital is not feasible for effective detection, the CDC has knocked on patients' doors, surveying, investigating and looking for possible sources of the infection.

"Our main priority here is to try and find out where this is coming from so that we can prevent additional cases," says CDC Deputy Director of healthcare quality division Michael Bell.

Although the outbreak is still ongoing, Bell is hopeful. This is because the strain of the bacteria in Wisconsin may be resistant to many antibiotics, but not to all.

Doctors have also grown their knowledge about disease management thus resulting in a steady number of mortalities for what was once a dubious medical condition.

Wisconsin may be in the midst of a bacterial threat, but at least the CDC and the health department are learning how to handle the disease more and more.

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