A potentially deadly bacterium has been discovered for the first time in water and soil samples in the United States, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to alert doctors and public health experts around the world on Wednesday. countries to take this into account when examining patients.
The bacterium, Burkholderia pseudomallei, was detected in the Gulf Coast region of southern Mississippi. Exposure to the bacteria can cause melioidosis, a “rare and serious disease,” according to the CDC; about one in 4,600 exposed people has the disease, according to a 2019 study. The study also found that about 90,000 people die each year from melioidosis.
“Once well established in the soil, B. pseudomallei cannot be removed from the soil,” the CDC wrote in its health advisory. “Public health efforts should focus primarily on improving case identification so that appropriate treatment can be administered.”
Samples show the bacteria has been present in the Mississippi region since at least 2020, when a person from the Gulf Coast region was found to have melioidosis, although it’s unclear exactly how long. Burkholderia pseudomallei, also known as B. pseudomallei, has been in the area.
The bacterium has previously been found in regions with tropical and subtropical climates around the world, such as South and Southeast Asia, northern Australia, and parts of Central and South America. The CDC said modeling showed the southern Mississippi climate was also conducive to its growth.
The environmental sampling in Mississippi was done after two patients in the area received diagnoses of melioidosis, two years apart — one in July 2020, the other in May 2022. The unnamed people were unrelated, the CDC said, but lived in “geographic proximity” and had no not recently traveled outside the United States.
Genomic sequencing data showed the two people had been infected with the same new strain from the Western Hemisphere, officials said. Both patients were hospitalized and recovered after antibiotic therapy.
Last month, the Mississippi State Department of Health and the CDC collected environmental samples of soil, water, and plant matter from patients’ properties, household products, and nearby areas they frequented. .
The bacteria can infect animals and people through direct contact or through cuts and wounds. The risk of person-to-person spread is low, officials said. Symptoms usually occur between one day and three weeks after exposure.
Most cases of melioidosis occur outside the United States, the CDC said. But last year, four people in four different states were infected with melioidosis after using a contaminated aromatherapy spray sold at Walmart. Two of the four people died, officials said.
Symptoms of melioidosis are nonspecific and vary from person to person, the CDC said, but symptoms include fever, localized pain or swelling, chest pain and headache. People with diabetes, excessive alcohol consumption, chronic lung disease, chronic kidney disease and immunosuppressive diseases are more susceptible to the bacteria. Officials said prompt diagnosis and antibiotics were crucial.
B. pseudomallei isn’t the only thing found in soil that can also cause disease.
Valley fever, also called coccidioidomycosis, is an infection caused by a fungus that lives in soil in the southwestern United States and parts of Mexico and Central and South America. It is contracted by breathing in the microscopic fungal spores from the air, although most people who breathe in the spores do not get sick, the CDC said. In 2019, about 20,000 cases were reported to the agency, most from people living in Arizona or California.