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Wisconsin officials said Thursday they are investigating an outbreak caused by a rarely seen bacteria that’s made 44 mostly elderly people sick and possibly killed 18 of them.
The bacteria’s called Elizabethkingia anophelis, and it’s been linked with mostly hospital outbreaks. But the Wisconsin cases don’t have any clear links yet and they have called in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for help.
“The Elizabethkingia infection has been detected in 44 patients located in southeastern and southern Wisconsin,” state health officer Karen McKeown said in a statement.
“The majority of patients are over the age of 65 years, and all have serious underlying health conditions.”
The bacteria is named after a bacteriologist, Elizabeth King, who discovered it in 1959. It’s been re-classified twice and was renamed after her in 2005.
Infections caused by Elizabethkingia are unusual and typically affect people with compromised immune systems or serious underlying health conditions.
“While 18 patients who tested positive for the Elizabethkingia infection in this outbreak have died, it has not been determined if the cause is the bacterial infection, or the patients’ other serious health conditions, or both,” the Wisconsin health department said.