A foreign microbe so dangerous it is considered a bioterrorism agent has been found growing wild in the United States, particularly in states along the Gulf of Mexico.
However, if someone were to innocently Google “Burkholderia pseudomallei,” the bug’s scientific name, and “Gulf of Mexico,” they might get the incorrect idea that the substance is just out there and anybody who ingests it or even breathes it in has a 50/50 chance of losing their lives.
The CDC has indeed issued a warning after finding it in Mississippi and Texas in freshwater and soil, fearing that it will spread.
That being said, it can be fatal to immunocompromised individuals, but for the most part, healthy people who contract it tend to recover quickly, so if you find yourself in this second category, there is little reason for concern.
In the meantime, however, multiple ominous headlines have given the idea that it may soon be killing visitors to the area, which is not really the case.
Here’s everything we know at this time!
In contrast to accounts that attribute the problem to the Gulf of Mexico, the bacterium dislikes salty water.
“Three of the samples obtained from soil and from puddle water in 2022 tested positive at CDC for B. pseudomallei, which indicates that bacteria from the environment was the likely source of illness for both patients and has been prevalent in the region since at least 2020,” the CDC noted after it was discovered in Mississippi by researchers almost exactly a year ago, in July of 2022.
To contract it, one must come into direct contact with the bacteria, which can occur when one’s damaged skin touches it, as well as when swallowing or inhaling contaminated droplets, as occurred in 2021 when 4 cases in 4 different states were connected to an imported aromatherapy spray sold at Walmart.
According to the state health department, Alachua County in the state’s north central region was home to Florida’s lone case of the illness in 2021.
It is an alien invader that was brought in some way and is now surviving and reproducing on its own.
“It’s from (places) where there is a tropical climate (and) now, unfortunately, seems to have a home around the Gulf Coast,” epidemiologist Sarah Park, said.
The disease is primarily found in Southeast Asia and Australia.
CDC disease investigators discovered it at two sites in Mississippi, but despite this, according to Park, a former state epidemiologist of Hawaii, “it’s not clear how prevalent it is in the environment yet.”
“But it’s safe to say there are more cases … It’s always concerning when you have a new organism that should be in another part of the world in yours.”
The CDC reports that most of the 12 or so cases that are diagnosed each year in the US are in “people with recent travel to a country where this bacteria is endemic.”
It’s possible to acquire the bacteria and go years without experiencing any symptoms. Because Vietnam War veterans became ill decades after exposure, it has been dubbed a “time bomb.”
The Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives states that “In case of immunosuppression, melioidosis may be reactivated, with reports of latency periods lasting up to 26 years, as seen in US veterans returning from Vietnam.”
The fact that the disease it causes, melioidosis, has symptoms that are similar to those of a number of other illnesses is one of the reasons the CDC issued an alert about it.
It is referred to as “the great mimicker” in places where it is more prevalent, such as the Philippines.
It can have symptoms similar to those of osteomyelitis, septic arthritis, pneumonia, encephalomyelitis, tuberculosis, and more.
The CDC estimates that 10-50 percent of cases of melioidosis are fatal in regions of the world where it is widespread.
Having a blood test or having it cultured in a lab is the gold standard for diagnosis.
The CDC advises doctors to “be aware of the signs and symptoms of melioidosis and consider melioidosis in patients who present with symptoms of the disease” in the meantime.
Although it is not impossible for otherwise healthy people to contract it, the CDC notes that the risk is increased by underlying conditions. The agency names the following as the main risk factors:
– liver disease and diabetes
– kidney disease
– Cancer or a different immune-compromising condition unrelated to HIV
– Chronic lung conditions (including bronchiectasis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cystic fibrosis)
“People with underlying medical issues just need to be vigilant. Remember clinicians aren’t clairvoyant, so remember to mention where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing,” Park said.