Health services: Bacterial outbreak may be a factor in 18 southern Wisconsin deaths

Published: Mar. 3, 2016 at 7:33 PM CST
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The Wisconsin Department of Health Services investigating a the origins of bacteria found in 44 people, 18 of whom have died.

The first cases of infections were reported at the end of December.

"There are many sub-types of Elizabethkingia," Stephanie Smiley, Director of the Bureau of Communicable Disease, said. "This happens to be one that is a rare one and it has not ever really been reported."

According to Smiley, Elizabethkingia is a rare bacteria, that, in this case, is causing a blood stream infection.

"At that point we thought 'oh! Maybe this is a one out,' but as we started getting multiple cases and thought 'OK. This is turning into a cluster' and then 'this is an outbreak investigation,'" she recalled.

So far, the outbreak is isolated to the southern Wisconsin region.

"At this point, nothing has come back as confirmed with the same sub-type of Elizabethkingia," Smiley said. She explained once the outbreak was reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, their department reached out to states around the country.

She says the symptoms can included fever, chills, or shortness of breath, but those alone don't necessarily warrant a call to your physician.

"It is a complex situation that affects older people with underlying disease..." She explained. "This is not an organism that is affecting individuals who are otherwise healthy."

She named chronic diseased like cancer, or cirrhosis.

"What we're really trying to find out here is, you know, where have the patients been? What products have they used? What products have been used on them?"

While the 18 patients tested positive for Elizabethkingia, the state health department has not yet determined whether those were a direct result of infection.

"It's always good to contact your healthcare provider," Smiley urged, "if you're experiencing any types of symptoms that you are really not sure about."

While Smiley said the investigation remains broad, the have ruled out transfer by person-to-person contact and through the air.

Guidance for treatment regimen is being offered from the Department of Health Services to healthcare providers across the state.

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