Jul 28, 2022 - Health

CDC warns deadly bacteria detected in U.S. for 1st time

Colonial morphology of Gram-negative Burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria grown 72 hours on a medium of chocolate agar, 2010.

Burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria, which causes melioidosis. Photo: CDC/Todd Parker, Audra Marsh via Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The CDC issued a warning Wednesday after a bacteria that could be deadly was found in the Gulf Coast region of Mississippi near the homes of two people who were hospitalized after becoming sick.

Why it matters: It's the first time the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei has been detected in water and soil samples in the U.S., according to the CDC's health alert. "This bacterium causes a rare and serious disease called melioidosis," the CDC said.

The big picture: Melioidosis, also known as Whitmore's disease, is "highly endemic" in places such as Thailand and northern Australia. But most healthy people who come into contact with the bacteria don't develop the disease, the CDC notes.

  • "The most common underlying conditions that make a person more likely to become sick with or die from melioidosis include diabetes, excessive alcohol use, chronic lung disease, chronic kidney disease, and immunosuppressive conditions," per the CDC.
  • "Worldwide, 10-50% of melioidosis cases result in death."

Driving the news: The two U.S. patients who were diagnosed with melioidosis in July 2020 and May 2022, respectively, didn't know each other but lived close to one another, according to the CDC.

  • "Genomic sequencing data revealed the two patients were infected by the same novel strain from the Western Hemisphere," the CDC said. "Both patients were hospitalized with sepsis due to pneumonia and had known risk factors for melioidosis."
  • Both patients recovered after antibiotic therapy.

Worth noting: "Melioidosis is an opportunistic infection, with disease developing after only one of every 4,600 exposures," according to a 2019 study that also noted the disease killed nearly an estimated 90,000 people globally every year.

  • "In Southeast Asia ... the in-hospital mortality exceeds 40%," but in Australia's tropical north "early recognition and access to high-quality intensive care unit (ICU) support in the country's well-resourced health system have reduced the disease’s case fatality rate to approximately 10%," the study notes.
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