The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are sounding the alarm on a rare illness that was previously only seen in tropical climates, particularly South Asia and northern Australia.
Now, two people are dead and two recovered after being infected with melioidosis — a disease that had never before been detected on contiguous US soil. Melioidosis has now been seen in Georgia, Kansas, Texas and Minnesota, LiveScience reported. The only other known cases of melioidosis in the US were on the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean.
None of the four patients claimed to have traveled outside of the country prior to becoming sick between March and July of this year.
The CDC “believes the most likely cause is an imported product (such as a food or drink, personal care or cleaning products or medicine) or an ingredient in one of those types of products,” according to the statement released Monday.
Investigators have taken more than 100 samples of soil, water and common products used in and around each patient’s home in order to discover a link between the four cases — but have found no common source thus far. However, genome sequencing of the bacteria has revealed that the four cases are likely somehow related, the CDC added.
About a dozen cases of melioidosis are seen each year in Americans, nearly all of which can be attributed to travel. This is the first time doctors are seeing the illness seemingly originate within the contiguous US.
Caused by the bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei, melioidosis can take several weeks to set in after exposure to the pathogen. Symptoms include cough and shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, intermittent fever and body rashes, the CDC wrote in a message to physicians on how to spot the illness.
Risk factors for developing the disease include diabetes, liver or kidney disease, chronic lung disease, cancer or another condition that weakens the immune system, the CDC warned.
One of the known cases of melioidosis — involving a 4-year-old girl — was recently publicized in Texas. Preschooler Lylah Baker had no known risk factors for the illness when she was sickened in May. Baker spent a month in the intensive care unit of the Children’s Medical Center Dallas, requiring a ventilator and eventually suffering brain damage, according to the Dallas Morning News.
“She was a healthy, typical little girl about to start pre-K in the fall — no underlying health issues previously. I mean just nothing,” Ashley Kennon, the child’s aunt, told the newspaper. “So it was definitely a major surprise to everybody not knowing where [the bacteria] came from.”
Baker is currently convalescing at Our Children’s House Dallas.
The CDC is urging doctors to be aware of melioidosis symptoms regardless of their patients’ locations and travels.