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CDC warning doctors to watch for rare bacterial disease called melioidosis

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Posted at 11:45 AM, Aug 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-12 14:45:04-04

We're learning more about a rare bacterial disease that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning doctors to look out for.

“Having cases of melioidosis occur in people in the United States who've never been abroad, or certainly not recently, is to my knowledge unprecedented,” said Dr. William Schaffner at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Melioidosis is a disease caused by bacteria mainly found in Asia or Australia.

The CDC has identified four cases in adults and children here in the U.S. and two of those people died.

Geographically, the cases are spread out in four states: Georgia, Kansas, Texas, and Minnesota.

Through whole-genome sequencing, the CDC says the cases appear to be from the same source and are most closely related to strains found in South Asia. But none of the U.S. patients had traveled internationally.

“This is actually a triumph of 21st-century medicine and diagnostics,” said Dr. Schaffner. “Even 10 years ago, this cluster of infections would not have been diagnosed. We wouldn't have seen it and they couldn't have been tied together because we now have more scientific techniques to be able to do that.”

So far, water and soil samples around the cases have turned up nothing. So now, they're looking at products possibly shipped into the U.S.

Another challenge is it takes weeks for symptoms to appear.

“If I get the infection, I can't transmit it to others. It comes from some external source and can affect me, but I can't give it. I can't spread it to other people, so we don't have to worry about that,” said Dr. Schaffner.

The most concerning symptom is a persistent pneumonia-like condition, which can be deadly, mainly in people with other underlying health issues.

The CDC says anyone with cough, chest pain, high fever, headache, or unexplained weight loss should see their doctor.

Melioidosis can be treated with antibiotics.