Deadly Bacterium Found in US Soil

It was previously only found overseas
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 28, 2022 1:49 AM CDT
Deadly Bacterium Found in US Soil
This photo provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention depicts a petri plate containing multiple colonies of Gram-negative Burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria.   (Dr. Todd Parker, Audra Marsh/CDC via AP)

A bacterium that can cause an often-fatal illness has been found in US soil for the first time. Burkholderia pseudomallei had previously only been known to exist in parts of southern Asia, Africa, and Australia. But it has now been found in soil and water samples taken along Mississippi's Gulf Coast, NBC News reports. The bacterium can cause melioidosis, an infection that has been fatal in about half of cases across the globe thus far. In the past, the handful of melioidosis cases to occur in the US each year typically involved people who've been overseas.

But the discovery of Burkholderia pseudomallei in Mississippi follows two people who lived near each other in the state, had no recent travel history, and developed melioidosis, one in 2020 and one in 2022. Both survived, and soil samples were taken near their homes to confirm the bacterium's presence. The CDC says the bacterium is endemic along the Gulf Coast, CNN reports. It has alerted doctors to watch out for symptoms of melioidosis, including cough, fever, chest pain, swelling, ulcers, weight loss, headache, muscle or joint pain, or, in more severe cases, disorientation, trouble breathing, pneumonia-like symptoms, sepsis, and seizures.

And people on the Gulf Coast may want to take precautions when encountering muddy water or soil, particularly if they have any open wounds, such as by wearing waterproof boots, the CDC says. But experts say the risk is generally low: "It takes a significant exposure," usually through an open wound or ingestion, to get sick, says one doctor. (Read more bacteria stories.)

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