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Elizabethkingia Death Toll Continues to Rise

APR 21, 2016 | DANIELLE MROZ, MA
Updated June 6, 2016 at 10:32 AM EST.

Concerns over the deadly outbreak in the Midwest continue to grow as five more individuals have died from the previously misdiagnosed bacteria.

As detailed in a recent press release, the Illinois Department of Health (IDPH) confirmed that 10 Illinois residents have been diagnosed with a strain of Elizabethkingia anophelis. In 9 out of the 10 cases, the bacterial strain is different than the strain that has attributed to 18 deaths and 61 confirmed infections in Wisconsin and 1 death in Michigan.

Following the reports of the outbreak in Wisconsin in January 2016, the IDPH sent alerts to hospitals and labs across the state, requesting information on reports and specimens of Elizabethkingia reaching as far back as January 1, 2014. The specimens were then tested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who confirmed the 10 Elizabethkingia cases. Although six of the infected individuals have died, it is difficult to determine the cause of death since most of those infected with the bacteria also had underlying health conditions.

According to the CDC, Elizabethkingia are Gram-negative bacteria, a type of bacteria that are typically resistant to common antibiotics. The strains seen in the current outbreaks are currently treatable with antibiotics, however, to ensure that patients receive the appropriate treatment, it is critical to recognize and diagnose the bacteria as soon as possible.

Health officials in Illinois are continuing to collect information from those infected with the bacteria to determine if there is a possible connection among them. This has proved difficult since health providers were not previously required to report cases of Elizabethkingia, and so the degree and type of exposure to the bacteria that leads to illness is unknown. In addition, estimates on the number of cases that occur each year are difficult to speculate.

IDPH Director, Nirav D. Shah, MD, JD is quoted in the release as saying, “Although this strain of Elizabethkingia is different than the one seen in the Wisconsin outbreak, our investigatory methods remain the same and we continue to work with the CDC and our local health departments to investigate this cluster of cases and develop ways to prevent additional infections.”

According to the CDC, this investigation, as well as those underway in Wisconsin and Michigan have “led to an increased awareness of Elizabethkingia and additional reporting of cases. Technological advancements in laboratory testing have allowed scientists to differentiate Elizabethkingia anophelis from other types of Elizabethkingia and to identify patient clusters within this species.”

The CDC is working with the Wisconsin Department of Health, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and the IDPH to identify the source of these outbreaks and prevent future infections. Healthcare providers should be aware that other clusters of Elizabethkingia may be identified during the investigation.

In addition, the CDC is advising healthcare providers in Illinois to be aware of the recently-identified cluster of the bacteria as a potential cause of bloodstream infections in their patients. For more information about confirmatory testing, visit the CDC website or contact the Special Bacteriology Reference Laboratory at SBRL@cdc.gov.
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