LANSING, Mich. (WOOD/AP) — A blood infection that has spread through Wisconsin and contributed to the deaths of 17 people there has now been linked to the death of a West Michigan resident.
Health officials said they have confirmed that the individual died after contracting Elizabethkingia, a bloodstream infection that matches the outbreak in Wisconsin. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services was notified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the match on March 11.
“We’re not only looking at what people are exposed to, but we’re taking samples of the environment, of water, of surfaces around sinks, taking samples of products they might have left over, but we haven’t found anything of note from those samples,” said Chris Braden, the deputy director for the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases for the CDC.
Braden said there have been outbreaks in the past, but Elizabethkingia rarely causes infections and the outbreak in Wisconsin that started in November is the largest ever recorded in published literature.
However, health officials are not sure of the source.
“What is unusual about the situation that we’re dealing with right now is that it’s causing infections in people that are spread in a fairly wide area in southeast Wisconsin and now, as you know, in Michigan,” Braden said. “There’s no one facility or no one water supply or no one environmental place or factor that we have been able to identify that could be the source of the infection because again the people are spread out and some people have limited mobility and they live in assisted living or are homebound in some way, so they don’t have a lot of exposures to some environmental factors that could be in common.”
The individuals who have died from the infection so far have all had serious underlying health conditions, so health officials haven’t been able to determine if their deaths were caused by the infection, the other illnesses or both.
“It may be a factor in a lot of these deaths, but in some people, it’s hard to say because they have other illnesses,” Braden said.
The bacteria is found in water and soil and people have become infected from tap water in the past, but health officials do not believe water is the reason for this outbreak.
“In some of the outbreaks that have occurred in facilities, it’s been linked to the water in that facility, so they find it in tap water in an intensive care unit in one particular instance. We have no indication that this is generally affecting tap water. These people live in multiple different towns with different water sources. There’s no commonality there. We just don’t think that’s the case,” Braden said.
The CDC is focusing its investigation on products such as medicines or personal care items that the deceased individuals might have used as they hope to soon track down a source for the outbreak.
“We’re working very hard to identify what that is and nobody is more frustrated than the investigating team with not being able to find that source,” Braden said. “We will keep the public informed as much as we can with the results of our investigation.”
There are a number of symptoms that people with the infection may experience that include high fever, nausea, vomiting, having chills or shakes, getting confused easily, and losing their appetite.