A highly dangerous bacterium, known as Burkholderia pseudomallei, has successfully reached the US Gulf Coast, leading the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to declare it endemic. With an alarming fatality rate of approximately 50 percent worldwide, this bacterium poses a severe threat.
According to the CDC, three cases of Burkholderia pseudomallei infection have been officially confirmed. If left untreated, this bacterium has the potential to cause the deadly disease called melioidosis.
“It is an environmental organism that lives naturally in the soil, and typically freshwater in certain areas around the world. Mostly in subtropical and tropical climates,” Julia Petras, an epidemic intelligence service officer with CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, told HealthDay News.
In January, the latest case of infection was reported in Mississippi. Prior to that, two additional cases were confirmed in the same county in July 2020 and May 2020.
Interestingly, a significant number of individuals infected with the bacteria do not exhibit any symptoms but instead develop antibodies against it. This suggests that there are likely many more people who have been infected, as stated by Petras.
In all three Mississippi cases, the patient recovered.
“This is one of those diseases that is also called the great mimicker because it can look like a lot of different things,” Petras told the outlet. “It’s greatly under-reported and under-diagnosed and under-recognized — we often like to say that it’s been the neglected, neglected tropical disease.”
People are typically infected by the bacteria through open wounds or by inhaling the germs during a strong storm.
Those with diabetes or kidney and liver problems are most at risk.
“Excessive alcohol use is also a known risk factor, and binge drinking has actually been associated with cases as well from endemic areas,” Petras said.
The CDC defines an endemic as “a constant amount of that specific disease present in a geographic location, like a state or country.”
There have only ever been two reported cases in the world of bacteria spreading from person to person.
Once the bacteria is inside the body, it attacks organs like the lungs and brain and any organ with an abscess, Petras said.
“A lot of patients will have pneumonia with sepsis, and or sepsis, which is associated with higher mortality and worse outcomes,” she said.
Globally, about 160,000 cases are reported annually, with 80,000 deaths.
Petras said it’s important to diagnose melioidosis early so it can be properly treated.
“We have antibiotics that work,” she told HealthDay News. “What I’m talking about is IV antibiotics for at least two weeks, followed by three to six months of oral antibiotics.”
Patients are treated first intravenously with Meropenem (Merrem) and ceftazidime (Fortaz). Amoxicillin is then given via pills during the second phase, according to Petras.
“It’s extensive treatment, but if you’ve finished the full course and you’re diagnosed early, which is the really key thing, your outcome is probably going to be quite good,” she added.
The exact arrival time and method of B. mallei to the Gulf Coast remains uncertain, but scientists strongly suspect that climate change has played a role in its presence.
B. mallei is known to flourish in warm and humid environments, and it was initially discovered in Australia and Thailand, as mentioned by Petras.