The illness can start with a wide range of symptoms like fever, joint pain and headaches which is treatable with the right antibiotics if it’s caught early, but it can lead to pneumonia, blood infections and even death if not properly treated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a health advisory to clinicians after discovering the bacteria behind a rare but serious disease for the first time in the continental United States.
Burkholderia pseudomallei (B. pseudomallei) was detected in soil and puddle water samples in the Gulf Coast region of southern Mississippi during an investigation of two human melioidosis cases.
US physicians should consider melioidosis even in patients who haven't traveled to other countries, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a health alert.
“Once it's in the soil, it can be a health threat for people in the area,” said the CDC's Julia Petras, who oversaw the investigation on Wednesday.
The illness can start with a wide range of symptoms like fever, joint pain and headaches. It's treatable with the right antibiotics if it’s caught early, but it can lead to pneumonia, blood infections and even death if not properly treated.
About 12 cases are reported annually in the US. The vast majority have been in people who traveled to places where the bacteria is endemic, including certain regions of Australia, Thailand, and Central and South America.
Effective in weakened immune systems
People can get the illness through direct contact with contaminated soil and water, especially if they have a cut on their hand or foot. It is also possible to inhale the bacteria.
The bacteria may not bother healthy people. But it can be dangerous to those with diabetes, chronic kidney or lung disease and weakened immune systems.
Last year, four people came down with the disease even though none had traveled internationally. Officials blamed their illnesses on a contaminated aromatherapy spray imported from India.
The new findings explain two Mississippi cases in men who hadn't traveled internationally, officials said. One got melioidosis in 2020 and the other, who lives about 10 miles away, got it this year. Both have recovered.
Health officials didn't say exactly where in Mississippi the men live, but investigators took 109 soil and water samples from the area. The bacteria was found in three spots — two in soil and one in a puddle — on the property of the man who was sickened two years ago.
Finding the bacteria in US soil is significant, but not surprising. Investigators have long believed that local soil contamination was behind infections in Texas's Atascosa County in 2004 and 2018, CDC officials said.