Health officials are still searching for the source of a serious blood infection linked to at least 18 deaths in the Midwest.
The bacteria, called Elizabethkingia, does not usually cause illness in humans, but in recent months it has sickened dozens and killed 17 people in Wisconsin and one in Michigan.
“This is not a new bacteria, although the strain that seems to be spreading now in Wisconsin is a slightly different one than we’re used to seeing,” CBS News medical contributor Dr. Holly Phillips explained. “It can cause serious blood infections or meningitis, but generally we see five to ten cases in every state in every year.”
However, since November more than 50 cases have been reported in southern Wisconsin, many of them fatal.
The bacteria got its name from the microbiologist Elizabeth King, who discovered it in 1959. Symptoms of infection include fever, chills, headache, neck pain, and skin infections. Those most at risk for complications are newborns, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems.
“For people who don’t fall into those groups or are otherwise healthy, you’d probably be fine if you contracted it,” Phillips said. “But still we need to be extraordinarily vigilant. The average age of the people who have died in Wisconsin is about 77, so it’s affecting the older population.”