Zika isn’t the only mosquito-borne illness to strike the United States. An outbreak of a rare bacterial illness is being reported in several states.
The illness first appeared in Wisconsin, with 59 reported cases and has spread to Illinois and Michigan. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), it has been linked to 20 deaths. There is cause for concern because only 5-10 cases of the illness have been reported annually in every state.
The Elizabethkingia anopheles bacteria was first discovered in the Anopheles gambiae mosquito, a species associated with meningitis, in 1911 in Gambia. It is named after Dr, Elizabeth King, who studied meningitis in 1959. It is primarily a bloodstream infection, though it has been found in the respiratory tract and in joints. In January, an outbreak occurred in the critical care ward of a London hospital. The bacteria was linked to contaminated tap water in hospital sinks.
The current Unites States outbreak has yet to be traced a specific source. The bacteria itself is commonly found in soil, rivers and reservoirs. The main sources of contamination considered so far are the water supply, food supply, dirt and medication systems. Officials have tested samples from healthcare systems where the infected were patients and have so far not uncovered the source.
Most of the gram-negative bacteria have the same genetic code and are likely from the same source. Though the mode of transmission has not been confirmed, it appears to not be transmitted from person to person.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services writes,
At this time, the source of these infections is unknown and the Department is working diligently to contain this outbreak.
Michael Bell, director of healthcare for the CDC says,
Our main priority here is to try and find out where this is coming from so that we can prevent additional cases.
Healthy people are generally not affected. Those with compromised immune systems and those over the age of 65 are most at risk. According to the CDC, the people who have died may have died as a result of their illness or a combination of their illness and the bacterial infection.
Symptoms are fever, chills, shortness of breath and cellulitis (an infection of skin tissues). It is detected through microbiology laboratory testing of blood and body fluids from those with symptoms.
The bacteria is unresponsive to standard antibiotics. However, the antibiotics Fluoroquinolones, rifampin and trimethoprim/sulfemethoxazole have proven effective, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. It is paramount to catch the illness and treat it early.