North Texas

Risks Of Elizabethkingia Bacteria In North Texas

State health officials are investigating the outbreak of a bacterial bloodstream infection in the Midwest that may be a factor in 20 deaths.

The outbreak of Elizabethkingia first appeared in Wisconsin and has now popped up in two nearby states, officials say.

Last week, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported that a patient there died of an infection with the bacteria Elizabethkingia anophelis – the same bacteria that has infected 59 people in Wisconsin and one person in Michigan.

Symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, chills or a bacterial skin infection, health officials said.

"The organism is a very rare one. It hadn't been aggressive before. It's found usually in nature, in water reservoirs, both outside in nature and inside in hospitals, in pools, in things like that, and it has not ever caused an outbreak to the degree we're seeing now," said Edward A. Dominguez, medical director of organ transplant and infectious disease at Methodist Dallas Medical Center.

"I don't think North Texans should be worried. This bacteria exists in all 50 states, but we don't know why this particular strain in two Midwestern states is more aggressive," Dominguez said. "My concern would be if someone who lives here travels to the infected area, then returns, has a medical episode and ends up in a local hospital here and transmits it to others."

"At this point, we don't know enough about the epidemiology of this strain about why it's causing death, but we may start to see more microbiology labs studying it. Still, we need to remain vigilant and be prepared," Dominguez added.

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