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BY: MAGGIE MARTIN

ElizabethkingiaMartin_Maggie_Headshot infections are considered deadly because the bacterium is known to be resistant to most antibiotics. It is commonly found in the environment worldwide and has been detected in soil, river water, and reservoirs. Cases are diagnosed through culture of body fluids, most often blood testing. Elizabethkingia has mostly caused meningitis in newborn babies and meningitis or bloodstream and respiratory infections in people with weakened immune systems. About 5-10 cases per state, per year are reported in the United States, with a few small, localized outbreaks reported in both the US and other countries, usually in health care settings. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been assisting with the investigation of Elizabethkingia anophelis outbreak cases in Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois.

Once infected, treatment can be very difficult to administer, even when it’s caught early. Getting the infection on top of what disease you may have can make it even more difficult to treat. The death rate caused by the mysterious bacteria is high because the individuals concerned are usually sick to begin with. Being aware of the problem is the first step in getting rid of the problem.  Here are the important things you need to know about Elizabethkingia infections; and hopefully pharmaceutical scientists will be able to develop treatment or prevention, before it starts to spread farther, like the Zika virus.

 Who is at most risk?

Elizabethkingia infections are likely to affect people who are 65 years or older and have a compromised immune system. Individuals suffering from cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, and AIDs are at high risk of infection. Children have not been reported to have contracted the infection. The bacterium is usually present in hospital or health care facilities where vulnerable patients are being treated.

Are Elizabethkingia infections common?

Certainly not; infections are very unusual and occur in sporadic cases. Sometimes only one or two cases can be recorded in a year at common health care facilities. Major outbreaks have been reported in different communities, which makes it even harder to treat.

What are the common symptoms of Elizabethkingia Infections?

When Elizabethkingia enters the blood stream, it can cause a variety of symptoms such as fever, redness, and inflammation of the skin. The bacteria can also cause a variety of respiratory symptoms in severe infections.

How are Elizabethkingia infections treated?

There are a variety of treatment options used to kill the bacteria. The use of antibiotics is certainly one of them. Because most people affected are battling underlying illnesses, treating this condition can be a challenge.

How do you protect yourself from the bacteria?

The general public may not be at high risk of being exposed to Elizabethkingia infections. However, health care providers and facilities are at high risk of exposure to the bacteria. Care should be taken to immediately detect and report any signs of the infection within their facilities. Any signs of infection should be reported to the public health division in order to avoid an outbreak.

How do we stop outbreaks of Elizabethkingia infections?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working on determining the sources of the outbreak. Investigations are being done on the water services, medical devices, and even foods and drugs that patients in health care facilities have consumed. However, none of the tests have been found to be a source of bacteria. The CDC continues to work with health departments in the affected states to identify the source of the bacteria and develop ways to prevent these infections.

Maggie Martin is completing her PhD in Cell Biology, works as a lab tech for MYBIOSOURCE.COM and contributes content on Biotech, Life Sciences, and Viral Outbreaks. Follow on Twitter @MAGGIEBIOSOURCE