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Strange illness in Wisconsin infects 44 elderly people, 18 die

The Wisconsin Health Department says most all of the people who have become sickened are 65 years of age or older and all the illnesses so far have been found in southern and southeastern Wisconsin.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has five investigators on the ground in Wisconsin, working alongside state health officials. So far, they know that individuals with underlying health problems and compromised immune systems are more at risk for the illness called Elizabethkingia.

Elizabethkingia meningoseptica is a Gram-negative rod-shaped bacterium widely distributed in nature. While the bacterium is present in the soil, water and sometimes in frogs and fish, it is not part of the normal flora in humans. CNN is reporting the bacterium was isolated in 1959 by American bacteriologist Elizabeth O. King while working at the CDC.

The bacterium is commonly the cause of outbreaks of meningitis in premature newborns and infants in neonatal intensive care units of underdeveloped countries. It is also linked to nosocomial pneumonia, endocarditis, postoperative bacteremia, and meningitis in immunocompromised adults. Only in the past few years has E. meningisepticum been implicated in soft tissue infections and sepsis in immunocompromised individuals.

The Wisconsin Health Department, in a statement updated on March 3, 2016, said: “At this time, the source of these infections is unknown and the Department is working diligently to contain this outbreak. After that initial guidance was sent, there has been a rapid identification of cases and healthcare providers have been able to treat and improve outcomes for patients.”

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