The number of suspected cases of a blood infection that may have contributed to 18 deaths in Wisconsin is growing, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has assigned additional investigators to pinpoint the bacteria's source, the AP reports. Infectious disease specialists describe the Wisconsin outbreak of Elizabethkingia anophelis as large. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the CDC has identified two additional suspected cases, besides the 44 that are confirmed. "This is very much a real outbreak," says Michael Bell, the deputy director of the CDC's Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. Especially worrisome: the fact that Elizabethkingia—which can usually be found in soil and water and thrives in warm, moist places—is resistant to many drugs, including certain antibiotics.
A University of Wisconsin-Madison associate professor of infectious disease says there's no obvious common link—meaning no food source, facility, or medical product, for example—between the 44 people confirmed as infected. The only thing state health officials can say is that most of those infected are over 65 with compromised health. "We have a mixed group of people," Bell says. "A good number hadn't had any contact with a medical facility. They never left home." Those who died all tested positive for the infection, but it's not know if Elizabethkingia caused or contributed to their deaths. Previous smaller outbreaks of the bacterium were usually able to be traced back to a single source. (Preventable hospital infections kill thousands each year.)