Similar to last week when Valley Fever made me think of Valley girls, the bacteria that has been hitting the airwaves recently made me think of the Royal Family. Before anyone panics, neither Sweet Princess Charlotte nor Hunky Prince Harry has taken ill. I’m talking about the bacteria Elizabethkingia anophelis. Why did I make me think of the Royals? Well, the first time I learned of this bacteria, I thought I heard or read it as “Elizabethan” and immediately thought of Queen Elizabeth I.
Elizabethkingia is a common bacteria found in soil, water and insects. Elizabethkingia often contaminates water and may remain in sinks or linger on surfaces, allowing it to spread to those who come in contact with it. It is not a bacteria that typically causes much trouble with humans and if it does it tends to sicken the very young, elderly, or those with underlying health conditions. Elizabethkingia causes meningitis in newborn babies and in people with weakened immune systems can cause meningitis, bloodstream or respiratory infections. Most of the severe infections are in the bloodstream. With these types of infections, the most common symptoms are fever, shaking, and chills and if it develops into pneumonia, typical respiratory symptoms present. Every year about 5 to 10 cases per state are reported in the United States, with a few small, localized outbreaks reported, most of which are usually in healthcare settings.
True to its form, that seems to be exactly what is happening with an outbreak in Wisconsin. Since November of last year, 57 people have been confirmed to be infected and 17 people have died as a result of this bacterium. Most of the patients that have been diagnosed with Elizabethkingia anophelis have been over the age of 65 with histories of at least one underlying serious illness that had compromised their immune system. At this point, the source of the outbreak is unknown, making it difficult to prevent future infections. Exposure from contaminated food and water have been identified as potential risk factors, however, the water supply has been ruled out as a potential source of the infection after it tested negative for the presence of Elizabethkingia. The investigation has not found any patterns of medical treatment or device usage among the cases making it difficult to determine if a relationship exists between infection and specific type of treatment.
If you’re wondering how the bacteria got its name, it has nothing to do with The Royals or the Elizabethan era…… The bacterium was named for Elizabeth O. King, a bacteriologist at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who discovered the first species of this genus in the 1950s. The species causing the Wisconsin outbreak was first isolated from the Anopheles mosquitoes in 2011 – meaning it just recently got its crown!