The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a health alert on Wednesday over a rare and potentially lethal bacteria strain that was recently detected in the country for the first time and has put at least two Americans in hospital.
US health officials are sounding alarms, warning that the Burkholderia pseudomallei bacterium that was spotted for the first time in the environment in the continental US could cause the rare and serious illness melioidosis – also known as Whitmore’s disease.
According to a 2019 study, melioidosis is an opportunistic infection, with the disease developing after only one of every 4,600 exposures, and is killing nearly an estimated 90,000 people globally every year.
Typically found in tropical and subtropical climates around the globe – Southeast Asia, Central, and South America, the Caribbean, and Australia – the bacteria-caused in-hospital mortality exceeds 40% in Southeast Asia but only approximately 10% in Australia’s tropical north due to the early recognition and access to high-quality intensive care unit (ICU) support.
CDC informed that while it had detected one case of the disease in July 2020, it only confirmed the local presence of the bacteria last month through an environmental sampling of soil and water in the Gulf Coast region of southern Mississippi where the two human melioidosis cases have been registered.
Both patients were hospitalized with sepsis and pneumonia but recovered following antibiotic treatments.
The CDC said that genomic sequencing revealed that both of them were infected by the same novel strain from the Western Hemisphere – distinct from previously known isolates though their cases were years apart.
Oxford University study estimated in 2016 that the pathogen may be present in up to 79 countries – including 34 that had not previously been detected- indicating a complete absence of the bacteria within the US.