August 4, 2022

Bacteria that causes rare disease found in Mississippi soil on Gulf Coast

Morgan Howard

The Mississippi State Department of Health, along with the CDC, announced that a bacteria called Burkholderia pseudomallei has been discovered living in Mississippi soil. (on the gulf coast)

This is the first detection of this type of bacteria happening environmentally in the United States.

The bacteria can cause something called melioidosis, a rare disease that can lead to pneumonia and sepsis. This could be a serious health risk to those who have chronic illnesses.

The investigation was conducted because two individuals (cases) of melioidosis – both on the Gulf Coast – became sick two years apart. Soil samples collected around the patients’ homes tested positive for the bacteria at the CDC. This shows that bacteria from the environment was probably the cause of infection for both people.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers says most cases come from when people travel to other countries.

Byers said, “Typically, we see these bacteria in countries where the bacteria are endemic or where it normally occurs. Burkholderia pseudomallei normally occurs in tropical and sub-tropical areas like Southeast Asia or Central or South America. Because of the identification of this bacteria on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, persons at high risk for severe infection living on the Gulf Coast should take recommended precautions.”

MSDH said in their press release that melioidosis is an infectious disease and is caused by direct contact with Burkholderia pseudomallei in contaminated soil or water. Symptoms include fever, joint pain, and headache. Infection can lead to pneumonia and blood infections (sepsis).

The press release said that most healthy people who come into contact with the bacteria never develop melioidosis. Those with chronic illnesses are more at risk of severe illness.

Those at risk should:

  • Avoid contact with soil or muddy water – especially after heavy rains.
  • Protect open wounds with waterproof dressing.
  • Wear waterproof boots when gardening, doing yard work or agricultural work. It is critical to prevent infection through the feet and lower legs (after flooding or storms).
  • Wear gloves to protect your hands when working directly with soil.

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