Outbreaks of the mysterious bacteria, Elizabethkingia, has been reported in Wisconsin and most recently, in Illinois. Yet, it has recently been discovered that the Elizabethkingia strain in Wisconsin is different than the strain documented in all, but one of the cases, in Illinois (1). As of April 20th, Illinois has reported ten confirmed cases, including six deaths attributed to Elizabethkingia (1). These reported deaths were over the age of 65 and all had unrelated, but severe health complications alongside the infection (1). Therefore, it is unknown whether the cause of these deaths were due to the infection of the bacteria, the underlying health conditions, or a combination of both (1).
Why is this outbreak unusual?
Perhaps the most unusual part of this outbreak is that Elizabethkingia rarely causes infections in humans (1). The bacteria, Elizabethkingia anophelis, is generally found in water sources including rivers, reservoirs, and soils (1). Many of the previously documented infections of Elizabethkingia have occurred within the context of health care facilities but this new cluster of cases in Illinois seems to be occuring within the community (2). However, the means in which individuals have become infected also remains unknown (1).
What is Elizabethkingia?
Elizabethkingia often tends to be a bloodstream infection, but in some cases it has been found to infect other sites such as the respiratory system or joints (3). Diagnoses of cases are conducted through blood tests (4). Symptoms of the infection include fever, shortness of breath, chills, and swelling and redness of the skin (1). The bacterial infection often manifests itself as meningitis in newborns or meningitis, and blood or respiratory infections in immunocompromised adults (1). Elizabethkingia is treatable, however it is resistant to many antibiotics (5). Doctors in this recent outbreak have identified a few antibiotics that have been successful in treating the infection, which include fluoroquinolones, rifampin, and trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (5). Hopefully these antibiotics can be used to treat more cases and prevent any additional deaths attributed to this outbreak.
Illinois Response to the Outbreak
The Illinois Department of Public Health is quite busy with determining the source of the outbreak, while also treating the people who have already contracted the infection. The agency is urging health care workers to test anyone who presents with similar symptoms of Elizabethkingia for infection (6). The agency is also trying to establish a link between the confirmed cases while investigating the source of the bacteria, why and how people are getting infected, and the exact effect that the bacteria has on a person’s health (6). Hopefully, Illinois will discover the cause of this outbreak in order to effectively treat and prevent further cases of this bacterial infection.
- Rhodes, D. (2016, April 20). 10 Illinois residents infected with Elizabethkingia. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved April 26, 2016, from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-elizabethkingia-infections-illinois-met-20160420-story.html
- Meyers, S. L. (2016, March 9). A Crash Course In Elizabethkingia, The Rare Bacterial Infection Spreading Across Wisconsin. Wisconsin Public Radio. Retrieved April 26, 2016, from http://www.wpr.org/crash-course-elizabethkingia-rare-bacterial-infection-spreading-across-wisconsin.
- Goldschmidt, D. (2016, April 13). Elizabethkingia outbreak spreads; source still a mystery. CNN. Retrieved April 26, 2016, from http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/12/health/elizabethkingia-illinois-bacterial-infection/
- Elizabethkingia. (2016). Retrieved April 26, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/elizabethkingia/about/index.html
- Rettner, R. (2016, April 20). 5 Things to Know About Elizabethkingia. Discovery News. Retrieved April 26, 2016, from http://news.discovery.com/human/health/5-things-to-know-about-elizabethkingia-160420.htm
- Bair, D., & Czink, K. (2016, April 20). Concerns grow over Elizabethkingia. WGN Tv. Retrieved April 26, 2016, from http://wgntv.com/2016/04/20/concerns-grow-over-elizabethkingia/