The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported three cases of infection from the bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei, with a roughly 50 percent fatality rate, in the US Gulf Coast.
According to Julia Petras, an epidemic intelligence service officer with the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, this bacteria “lives naturally in the soil, and typically freshwater in certain areas around the world, mainly in subtropical and tropical climates”.
The most recent case was reported in Mississippi in January and two other cases were reported in July 2020 and May 2020. Although most infected people do not show symptoms, this does not mean that many are not infected, as they develop antibodies against it. All three Mississippi patients recovered from the infection.
People are generally infected with this bacteria through open wounds or by breathing in the germs during a storm. Those with diabetes, liver or kidney problems, and those who overuse alcohol are more at risk.
Despite only two reported cases of spread from person to person, the bacteria can attack the lungs, brain, and any organ with an abscess. Globally, this bacteria is responsible for 160,000 cases and 80,000 deaths each year.
Early diagnosis and treatment with IV antibiotics for two weeks followed by three to six months of oral antibiotics can improve chances of recovery. It is unclear how or when the bacteria got to the Gulf Coast, but climate change is likely a factor, as B. mallei has been found in warm, humid areas, such as Australia and Thailand.