Potentially deadly bacterium found in US for 1st time, prompting CDC warning

The CDC is warning physicians and public health experts of a potentially deadly bacterium that was detected in U.S. soil and water samples for the first time.

Researchers detected the bacterium, Burkholderia pseudomallei, in the Gulf Coast region of Southern Mississippi, the CDC said in a July 27 health alert. The bacterium can infect humans through direct contact or through open wounds and causes a "rare and serious" disease called melioidosis. Experts say the risk of spreading from person to person is extremely low.

Researchers identified the bacterium while investigating two human melioidosis cases in Southern Mississippi reported two years apart in July 2020 and May 2022. Both patients were hospitalized with sepsis due to pneumonia but recovered after receiving antibiotics.

The CDC said it's unclear how long B. pseudomallei has been in the U.S. or how widespread it is. The agency is encouraging clinicians to familiarize themselves with melioidosis and be aware of the potential for more cases to arise. 

"Once well-established in the soil, B. pseudomallei cannot feasibly be removed from the soil," the CDC said. "Public health efforts should focus primarily on improving identification of cases so that appropriate treatment can be administered."

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