Deadly bacteria found in the US soil for first time. What can you do to protect yourself

It has been there at least since 2020, if not before.
Ameya Paleja
Burkholderia pseudomallei
Burkholderia pseudomalleitoeytoey2530
  • The bacteria was thought to be endemic to tropical regions
  • Only 12 cases are reported in the U.S. every year
  • The disease is now a nationally notifiable disease

The presence of Burkholderia pseudomallei, a type of bacteria and the causative agent of the rare and deadly disease melioidosis, was recently confirmed in residential environmental samples collected on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a press release.

The disease has non-specific symptoms like fever, joint pain, and headaches and can also lead to conditions such as pneumonia, abscess formation, and blood infections. The disease can be fatal in up to 50 percent of cases.

Prior to thisBefore, the bacteria was considered to be found only in the tropical and sub-tropical regions, such as South East Asia, northern Australia, parts of South and Central America, and Puerto Rico. The CDC has historically received reports of 12 cases of melioidosis in the U.S. every year, and most have occurred in individuals with a travel history to countries where the bacteria is usually found.

Apart from those, a cluster of four cases in four states was reported in 2021 but was later linked to contamination of an aromatherapy product that was imported into the U.S.

How did the CDC find the bacteria in the U.S.?

In 2020, however, a resident of the Mississippi Gulf Coast with no international travel history was diagnosed with the bacterial infection and was followed by another case of infection in close geographic proximity in 2022. This prompted the health agency as well as state health officials to investigate the area. After taking appropriate permission from the patients, their household products, as well as solid and water samples from the area were tested for the presence of the bacteria.

Three of the samples taken from the soil and puddle water tested positive for B.pseudomallei, indicating that it was likely the source of infection for these individuals and has been in the environment since 2020, if not earlier. Modeling data has shown that the conditions in the geographical area are conducive to the organism's growth, even though they do not know how long the organism has been active.

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What precautions must residents of the area take?

Even though the potentially deadly bacteria has been in the environment for at least a few years now, the CDC believes that the risk of the melioidosis disease to the general population is still very low.

Individuals with conditions such as diabetes, chronic kidney or lung disease, or those consuming excessive alcohol though maybe at a higher risk, the press release warns. As a precaution to avoid the infection, these individuals must

  • avoid contact with muddy water or soil and protect open wounds with a waterproof dressing
  • use waterproof boots after floods or storms to prevent infection while working in the garden or fields
  • wear gloves while working with soil

On its part, the CDC has issued a national health advisory and is encouraging healthcare providers in the region as well as the southern U.S. to learn more about the disease and be aware of more cases being reported. Every case of the disease must be reported to the state health department, the press release added.

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