WELLNESS-The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notified the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) in January about a somewhat alarming rate of Elizbethkingia Anophelus. Elizbethkingia itself isn’t that rare or unusual, but this new strain is different because it is killing people. So far 20 of the 59 cases in Wisconsin ended in death and it seems to have spread to neighboring Illinois and Michigan. There are normally about 5 cases of infection a year reported in each state nationwide making this an unusually large outbreak.
It wasn’t until March 2 almost two months after the CDC notified the DHS that they finally notified the public about the outbreak. The argument made by the DHS is that the information they had about Elizbethkingia was so scarce that telling the public any sooner could have resulted in nothing more than fear mongering. People on the other side say that it was the responsibility of the DHS to tell the public about this outbreak so that they could be at least as informed as the DHS in order to take necessary precautions.
Elizbethkingia is a gram-negative bacterium occurring in nature and certain strains of this disease happen to be resistant to some antibiotics. This current attack by Elizbethkingia is treatable with a combination of antibiotics if detected early enough. While the bacteria itself is common, infections caused by the disease are not which has left health officials somewhat baffled by this recent outbreak.
The disease itself normally comes from a common source like riverbeds, soil, or reservoirs but with this outbreak they have yet to determine the source. The CDC says the disease itself is not contagious from person to person, but rather from a common source like a water supply or even from healthcare settings like a saline solution source, etc. The CDC has more than a half dozen officials on the ground in Wisconsin trying to determine the source and as of Monday morning they still have not.
A third of the people infected by this outbreak have died, and the majority of those cases are infections in the blood stream. A few people have ended up with the disease settling into the lungs and joints as well. The symptoms are fever and chills and in some cases respiratory difficulty and skin infections. It tends to attack the elderly and already immuno-compromised, and most of the 20 people killed by the disease had pre-existing conditions weakening their immunity and putting them at risk.
While they are saying that it’s not contagious, the DHS is telling health professionals to treat patients suspected of having the disease using Guidelines for Prevention and Control of Antibiotic Resistant Organisms in Health Care Settings. Besides Wisconsin there has been one reported death from Elizbethkingia in Illinois and another reported infection in Michigan. There will be more news forthcoming and hopefully this wave of illness will subside this week.