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5 things to know about the Wisconsin Elizabethkingia outbreak

Here’s what physicians need to know about the mysterious bloodstream infection in the Midwest.

Since November, Wisconsin has seen 59 cases of Elizabethkingia infection, mostly in people older than 65 with other health issues. The infection has a high mortality rate: Of the individuals with Elizabethkingia infections, 17 have died.

Elizabethkingia bacteria is commonly found in soil and water and usually isn’t harmful to humans. It is often resistant to antibiotics, and one particular strain of it has caused the outbreak of bloodstream infections in Wisconsin.

Here’s what physicians should know about the outbreak:

  1. It may have spread to Michigan: In March, a patient in the Great Lakes State tested positive for Elizabethkingia infection and died shortly after being diagnosed.
  2. State and federal health officials have not yet pinpointed the cause of the outbreak or identified a mechanism to slow or stop it. They have identified cases in 12 different counties, which suggests the source is not a single facility, such as a hospital.
  3. Symptoms of Elizabethkingia infection include fever, shivering, chills, shortness of breath and cellulitis.
  4. Wisconsin physicians should watch for signs of Elizabethkingia infection in patients with multiple comorbid conditions, including diabetes, renal disease, alcohol dependence or immune-compromising conditions.
  5. The Wisconsin Division of Public Health recommends contact precautions for health care professionals managing a suspected case of Elizabethkingia infection. Read more instructions for health care professionals on the Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ website.

Sources: Wisconsin Department of Health Services, The Daily Beast, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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