CDC: Bacteria that cause rare tropical disease found in US
NEW YORK – A germ that causes a rare and sometimes deadly disease — long thought to be confined to tropical climates — has been found in soil and water in the continental United States, US health officials said Wednesday.
Bacteria were found on the property of a Mississippi man who had contracted melioidosis. Officials don’t know how long it’s been there, but they say it’s likely to occur in other areas along the Gulf Coast.
US doctors should consider melioidosis even in patients who have not traveled to other countries, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a health warning.
“Once it’s in the soil, it can be a health threat to people in the area,” said Julia Petras of the CDC, who oversaw the investigation.
The illness can begin with a range of symptoms such as fever, joint pain, and headache. It is treatable with the right antibiotics if caught early, but it can lead to pneumonia, sepsis, and even death if not treated properly.
About 12 cases are reported annually in the United States. The majority were in people who had traveled to places where the bacteria were endemic, including certain parts of Australia, Thailand, and Central and South America.
People can get sick from direct contact with contaminated soil and water, especially if they cut their hands or feet. The bacteria can also be inhaled.
Bacteria may not bother healthy people. But it can be dangerous for people with diabetes, chronic kidney or lung disease, and weakened immune systems.
Last year, four people contracted the disease even though none had traveled internationally. Officials blamed their illness on a tainted aromatic spray imported from India.
The new findings explain two Mississippi cases in men who have not traveled internationally, officials said. One got melioidosis in 2020 and the other, who lives about 10 km away, got it this year. Both have recovered.
Health officials did not say exactly which men lived in Mississippi, but investigators took 109 soil and water samples from the area. The bacteria were found in three spots – two in the soil and one in a puddle – on the property of the man who became ill two years ago.
Findings of bacteria in U.S. soil is significant, but not surprising. CDC officials say investigators have long believed that local soil contamination was the cause of infections in Texas’ Atascosa County in 2004 and 2018.
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