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54 cases of Elizabethkingia in Wisconsin; one Michigan resident has died

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The rarely seen bloodstream infection Elizabethkingia, which has sickened dozens in Wisconsin since November, has been identified in a Michigan resident, the Michigan health department said.

The older adult with underlying health conditions died as a result of the infection, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday, March 17th. It released no other details about the patient.

There have been 54 cases reported to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

“The majority of patients acquiring this infection are over the age of 65, and all patients have a history of at least one underlying serious illness,” the Wisconsin agency said in a statement.

Seventeen of those individuals have died, although it is not confirmed the infection was the cause of death or the patients’ underlying health conditions.

The bacteria are commonly found in soil, river water and reservoirs but do not commonly cause illness in humans. People with compromised immune systems or serious underlying health conditions are more at risk of infection. Previous outbreaks have been associated with health care settings.

The infection is often antibiotic resistant and therefore difficult to treat.

Symptoms of Elizabethkingia infection include fever, shortness of breath, chills and a bacterial skin infection called cellulitis.

Health officials in Wisconsin have been working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate this outbreak but have not yet identified the source. Michigan is now part of that effort.

“Michigan has worked closely with the CDC and Wisconsin Health Department to alert our provider community about the Wisconsin outbreak and to ensure early recognition of potential cases in our state,” Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement.

CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said the Michigan case is not a complete surprise, given that health departments across the country were asked to be on the lookout for Elizabethkingia infections after the outbreak in Wisconsin was identified.

The CDC team continues to work in Wisconsin.

“The work is labor-intensive. Lots of people are working around the clock, a very wide net has been cast looking at lots of different possibilities,” Skinner said.

He said they’ll continue in hopes of solving this outbreak but noted they aren’t able to solve every outbreak.

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