Four people, including a Minnesotan, have contracted the rare tropical disease melioidosis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently confirmed a new fatal case in the state of Georgia that is linked to three previous cases in Minnesota, Kansas and Texas.
The first case, which was fatal, was diagnosed in Kansas in March 2021. The second and third cases were identified in May 2021 in Minnesota and Texas. The fourth case, which was fatal, was identified after the person died in Georgia in late July 2021, the CDC says.
The cases involve both children and adults; two males and two females. Two of the four cases had no known risk factors for melioidosis.
The Minnesota case involved an adult with underlying health conditions, Doug Schultz of the Minnesota Department of Health told Bring Me The News. They did not die.
Melioidosis is caused by the bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei, which is found in contaminated water and soil, most often in South Asia and Australia. It is spread to humans and animals through direct contact with a contaminated source. The CDC says in rare cases the bacteria has been found to contaminate wet or moist products in the areas where the bacteria are common.
None of the people who contracted melioidosis had a history of traveling outside the continental United States, which has health officials suspecting the most likely cause is an imported product, such as a food, drink or personal care or cleaning products or medicine, or an ingredient in those types of products.
The CDC says it has collected and tested more than 100 samples from products, soil, and water in and around the patients’ homes. No samples have yet been positive for the bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei.
Health officials admit that identifying a single source of the infection “may be difficult,” citing how the patients were in different states when they became sick; each person could have been exposed to potentially “hundreds” of products before they got sick; and unlike germs that cause foodborne outbreaks, the bacteria that causes melioidosis can take 2-3 weeks to make someone sick.
Because symptoms of melioidosis can vary and are nonspecific (they can include pneumonia, abscess formation and blood infections), the CDC is asking doctors to watch for any acute bacterial infection that doesn’t respond to normal antibiotics to consider melioidosis, regardless if the person has traveled outside the U.S.
The CDC says melioidosis can initially be mistaken for other diseases, like tuberculosis, which can delay proper treatment.
Those with underlying conditions may be at increased risk of the disease. The major risk factors are diabetes, liver or kidney disease, chronic lung disease, cancer or other conditions that weaken the immune system.
The CDC says anyone how has a cough, chest pain, high fever, headache or unexplained weight loss should see their doctor.
The CDC’s melioidosis website is here.
MDH said it has no additional information for Minnesotans beyond what the CDC has said, but it did issue a health advisory to health care providers in late June.