A deadly bacteria that causes the rare disease known as melioidosis has been detected in Mississippi water and soil samples, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in a Health Alert Network Advisory on Wednesday (July 27).
Burkholderia pseudomallei was located in the Gulf Coast region, which marked the first time the bacteria was ever known to be present within the United States.
“It is unclear how long the bacterium has been in the environment prior to 2020 or how widespread the bacterium is in the continental United States; modeling suggests that the environmental conditions found in the Gulf Coast states are conducive to the growth of B. pseudomallei,” the CDC said.
The CDC referred to melioidosis as being “considered to be locally endemic in areas of the Gulf Coast region of Mississippi” and asked nationwide health care providers to consider the disease as a potential diagnosis when patients show notable symptoms which include fever, pain or swelling, ulcers, coughing, chest pain, trouble breathing, weight loss, muscle or joint pain, disorientation, headache and seizures.
Symptoms can later progress to other conditions including pneumonia, abscesses and blood infections and melioidosis is reported to be deadly in 10% to 50% of all cases.
Burkholderia pseudomallei is typically present in tropical regions and cases among Americans — which the CDC said averages about 12 per year — are usually linked to international travel.
The discovery in Mississippi came after two people who lived close to each other were diagnosed with the same bacterial strain in July 2020 and May 2022, with neither having a history of international travel.
The CDC sampled household products and properties in nearby areas, while the patients were hospitalized but eventually recovered after taking antibiotics.
The CDC said the risk to the general public “continues to be very low” and there have been few documented examples of cases being transmitted between people.