A deadly bacteria has been found in the soil and water of Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control announced on Wednesday.
The bacteria, Burkholderia pseudomallei or B. pseudomallei, can cause the disease melioidosis, which is fatal in 10-50% of cases. It was the first time this particular bacteria has been found in the US.
The disease can cause an array of symptoms such as “fever, joint pain, and headaches,” and can lead to more serious conditions such as pneumonia, blood infections and abscess formation, the agency said.
An average of 12 cases are identified in the U.S. per year and usually have just traveled to a country where the bacteria is endemic. It’s typically found in tropical and sub-tropical areas as South and Southeast Asia, northern Australia, and parts of Central and South America and Puerto Rico.
Other cases, such as an outbreak of four cases in four separate states in 2021, were linked to an imported aromatherapy spray, officials said.
“It is unclear how long the bacteria has been in the environment and where else it might be found in the U.S.; however, modeling suggests that the environmental conditions found in the Gulf Coast states are conducive to the growth of B. pseudomallei,” the CDC said in a statement.
“CDC is alerting clinicians throughout the country of this discovery through a national health advisory, reminding them to be aware of the signs and symptoms of melioidosis and to consider melioidosis in patients that present with symptoms of the disease.”
According to the CDC, two unrelated individuals living in the Gulf Coast region were diagnosed with melioidosis within two years — one in 2020 and the other in 2022. The unusual outbreak prompted Mississippi state health officials and the CDC to sample household products, soil and water around the patients’ homes.
Three samples taken from soil and puddle water tested positive for B. pseudomallei, “indicating bacteria from the environment was the likely source of infection for both individuals and has been present in the area since at least 2020,” the CDC said.
The CDC said it believes the risk of infection for the general population “continues to be very low,” given the small number of individuals who are infected.
Those in the Mississippi gulf region with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, chronic lung disease, or excessive alcohol use are at higher risk. The CDC recommends those at higher risk take precautions such as avoiding contact with soil and muddy water, especially after storms or heavy rain; wearing waterproof boots when working outdoors; and wearing gloves when working with soil.
The discovery of the bacteria comes just days after the World Health Organization declared monkeypox, a disease that had been historically endemic to tropical or sub tropical regions in Africa, a “global health emergency” as positive cases soar worldwide.
In New York City, 1,148 have tested positive for monkeypox as of July 27, according to New New York City Health Department. The department said cases are increasing and there are likely many more undiagnosed cases.