Two Americans have died and two more are recovering from serious illness after being infected with melioidosis — a rare disease previously only seen sparingly in the tropical climates of South Asia and northern Australia.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the disease had never before been detected on contiguous American soil, but now, after this “severe” outbreak, it has been confirmed in individual cases in Georgia, Kansas, Texas, and Minnesota.
The only other previous American-involved cases of melioidosis (AKA Whitmore’s disease) ever found were recorded in the Virgin Island and Puerto Rico — both tropical island climates in the Caribbean. But now that the disease has evidently spread to the mainland, even so far as a northern locale like Minnesota, the CDC is concerned.
According to a new report published by the org on the disease, and reported on by The Hill and others, none of the four patients involved claimed to have traveled outside of the U.S. prior to becoming sick. That further brings confusion to an already rare situation, since none of the four were apparently in any tropical hotspot or elsewhere abroad. All four cases first manifested themselves between March and July of this year.
In a statement released as part of their report, the government health org is investigating whether some kind of imported product might be at fault. The government’s official cautionary statement read in part (below):
“The CDC believes the most likely cause is an imported product (such as a food or drink, personal care or cleaning products or medicine) or an ingredient in one of those types of products. Although healthy people may get melioidosis, underlying medical conditions may increase the risk of disease. The major risk factors are diabetes, liver or kidney disease, chronic lung disease, cancer or another condition that weakens the immune system.”
Sounds like COVID with that “underlying medical conditions” talk, doesn’t it?
Still, melioidosis is remarkably rare. So rare, in fact, that the CDC has yet to find this outbreak’s common source — if there is one. The org has taken more than 100 samples of soil, water, and common products used in and around each patient’s home to determine how they might have come down with it in the first place. At the very least, even as the mystery continues, genome sequencing of the bacteria has determined that the four cases are “likely somehow related.”
In a typical year, the United States logs 10 or so cases of melioidosis — all from Americans who report to traveling abroad extensively in tropical climates without getting sick. This round of cases is highly concerning since none of the victims traveled, as we noted, and thus the illness has somehow seemingly originated within the United States.
Of the four cases one is especially heartbreaking: preschooler Lylah Baker, just 4 years old (pictured in the inset, above), was inexplicably stricken with the disease in Texas back in May. Sickened so badly that she was taken to the intensive care unit, she required a ventilator to breathe and eventually suffered brain damage during her battle against the bacteria. Thankfully she lived, and she is now resting and recovering in Dallas, but to say that the sickness caught her family by surprise is an understatement.
Her aunt, Ashley Kennon, spoke to the Dallas Morning News about her niece, saying:
“She was a healthy, typical little girl about to start pre-K in the fall — no underlying health issues previously. I mean just nothing. So it was definitely a major surprise to everybody not knowing where came from.”
Truly a nightmare scenario for any parent to have to go through — and such horrible suffering for that poor little girl.
No travel advisories or anything from the CDC at this point as they are still trying to figure out what’s going on.
What a scary situation…
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