Rare bacterium that causes infectious disease discovered in Mississippi
JACKSON, Miss. (WMC) - A bacterium that is predominantly found in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide was discovered on U.S. soil for the first time — in the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.
The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) announced its discovery on Wednesday.
Burkholderia pseudomallei is a rod-shaped bacterium that is known to dwell in polluted soil or water in tropical and sub-tropical areas such as Southeast Asia or Central or South America.
But after a joint investigation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it has been determined that the bacteria has been present in Mississippi since at least 2020.
When in direct contact, B. pseudomallei can cause melioidosis, an infectious disease that causes fever, joint pain, and headache. Infection can lead to pneumonia and blood infection (sepsis).
The investigation that led to the bacteria’s discovery began after two cases of melioidosis were confirmed on the Gulf Coast two years apart.
Soil samples were collected around the patients’ homes, and were later tested positive for B. pseudomallei at the CDC. This indicates that the environment was the likely source of infection for both people and that the bacteria has been present in the area since at least 2020 when the first case was reported.
Most cases of melioidosis are the result of people traveling to countries where the bacteria is known to be present, said State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers.
“Typically, we see these bacteria in countries where the bacteria are endemic or where it normally occurs. Burkholderia pseudomallei normally occurs in tropical and sub-tropical areas like Southeast Asia or Central or South America. Because of the identification of this bacteria on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, persons at high risk for severe infection living on the Gulf Coast should take recommended precautions,” Byers said.
Most healthy people who come into contact with the bacterium never develop melioidosis, however, people living along the Gulf Coast have been warned to take precautions to protect themselves, especially those at higher risk for infectious disease.
MSDH advises those at risk should:
- Avoid contact with soil or muddy water – especially after heavy rains.
- Protect open wounds with waterproof dressing.
- Wear waterproof boots when gardening, doing yard work or agricultural work – it is critical to prevent infection through the feet and lower legs (after flooding or storms).
- Wear gloves to protect your hands when working directly with soil.
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