The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a health advisory to clinicians on Wednesday after discovering the bacteria behind a rare but serious disease for the first time in the continental United States.
Burkholderia pseudomallei (B. pseudomallei) was identified in soil and puddle water samples from the Gulf Coast region of southern Mississippi during a study of two human cases of melioidosis.
The two unrelated people lived in close geographical proximity and contracted the disease two years apart — in 2020 and 2022 — prompting health officials to investigate household products and the areas surrounding their homes.
Melioidosis causes nonspecific symptoms such as fever, joint pain, and headache, but it can also cause pneumonia, abscess formation, and blood infections.
The U.S. has an average of about 12 cases per year, mostly related to travel to tropical and subtropical regions where the bacterium is endemic.
A 2021 cluster involving four people in four states has been linked to imported contaminated aromatherapy spray.
Most healthy people who come into contact with the bacteria do not develop melioidosis, but the global mortality rate for those who do is 10-50 percent.
The CDC said people in southern Mississippi who have underlying conditions such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, chronic lung disease, or excessive alcohol consumption should take extra precautions.
These include avoiding contact with soil and muddy water, covering open wounds with bandages, and wearing waterproof boots and gloves when gardening.
“Given the very small number of cases of melioidosis historically identified in the United States, the CDC believes that the risk of melioidosis in the general population remains very low,” the agency said.
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