Soil and water

A bacterium responsible for a rare tropical disease discovered on American soil for the first time

NEW YORK (AP) — A germ that causes a rare and sometimes deadly disease — long thought to be confined to tropical climates — has been found in soil and water across the continental United States, U.S. officials said Wednesday. of health.

The bacteria was found on the property of a Mississippi man with the disease, melioidosis. Officials don’t know how long it was there, but they say it likely happens in other areas along the Gulf Coast.

US doctors should consider melioidosis even in patients who have not traveled to other countries, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a health alert.

“Once it’s in the ground, it can pose a health threat to people in the area,” said CDC’s Julia Petras, who oversaw the investigation.

The disease can begin with a wide range of symptoms including fever, joint pain, and headache. It can be treated with the right antibiotics if caught early, but it can lead to pneumonia, blood infections, and even death if not treated properly.

About 12 cases are reported each year in the United States. The vast majority are people who have traveled to places where the bacteria is endemic, including parts of Australia, Thailand and Central and South America.

People can contract the disease through direct contact with contaminated soil and water, especially if they have a cut on their hand or foot. It is also possible to inhale the bacteria.

Bacteria may not bother healthy people. But it can be dangerous for people with diabetes, chronic kidney or lung disease, and weakened immune systems.

Last year, four people contracted the disease although none had traveled abroad. Officials attributed their illnesses to a contaminated aromatherapy spray imported from India.

The new findings explain two cases from Mississippi in men who had not traveled overseas, officials said. One contracted melioidosis in 2020 and the other, who lives about 10 miles away, contracted it this year. Both have recovered.

Health officials did not specify where the men live in Mississippi, but investigators took 109 soil and water samples from the area. The bacteria was found in three places – two in the ground and one in a puddle – on the property of the man who was ill two years ago.

The discovery of the bacteria in American soil is significant, but not surprising. Investigators have long believed local soil contamination was behind the infections in Atascosa County, Texas in 2004 and 2018, CDC officials said.