Wisconsin bacteria outbreak

A death in Illinois has been linked to the same strain of bacteria that has caused an unprecedented outbreak of infection in Wisconsin and one case in Michigan.

There have been 57 cases of Elizabethkingia in that state, and 18 of those people died. There was one, fatal case in Michigan and now one in Illinois.

“Illinois is working closely with the CDC and Wisconsin and Michigan health officials to investigate this outbreak and develop ways to prevent additional infections,” said IDPH Director Nirav D. Shah, M.D., J.D.  “IDPH will continue to coordinate with hospitals and health care providers to quickly identify and report cases of Elizabethkingia.”

In early February, and again in March, IDPH sent alerts to hospitals requesting they report all cases of Elizabethkingia and save any specimens for possible testing at public health laboratories.

To date, Wisconsin is reporting 57 confirmed cases, including 18 deaths; Michigan is reporting one confirmed case, including one death; and Illinois is reporting one confirmed case, including one death.

The majority of the infections identified to date have been bloodstream infections, but some patients have had Elizabethkingia isolated from other sites, such as their respiratory systems or joints.  The majority of the patients who have had Elizabethkingia infections as part of this outbreak are over age 65, and all have had underlying health conditions.  It has not yet been determined whether the deaths associated with this outbreak were caused by the bacterial infection, the patients’ underlying health conditions, or both.

“Typically in a given year in the United States, we see 5 to 10 infections in humans with this bacteria. And over just the past few months there’s been nearly 60 cases in just three states,” said Dr. Chad Achenbach, Northwestern Medicine.

“It does have a fairly high, what we would call a case fatality rate of nearly one third of those infected,” Dr. Achenbach said.

Although Elizabethkingia is a common organism in the environment (water and soil), it rarely causes infections.  Health officials are testing samples from a variety of potential sources, including health care products, water sources, and the environment.  To date, none of these has been identified as the source of the bacteria.