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The Wisconsin Department of Public Health states there are 44 cases and 18 deaths reported in eleven counties in southern Wisconsin which include Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Jefferson, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Sauk, Washington, and Waukesha counties.  The infected are over 65 with serious health issues.  Elizabethkingia is considered an opportunistic infection.  Healthy people usually fend off infection.

It was named after bacteriologist Elizabeth King who first identified it while studying pediatric meningitis in 1959, while working for the CDC.  She named that particular strain Flavobacterium “yellow rod-shaped” meningosepticum – “associated with meningitis and sepsis.”  

The specific strain wreaking havoc in Wisconsin, E. anopheles (of/from a mosquito of the genus Anopheles), is also known to live in the guts of certain mosquitoes.  It is a gram negative, rod shaped bacterium, widely distributed in nature, that infects the blood stream and colonizes in the respiratory tract and is resistant to multiple drugs.  Symptoms include fever, chills, shortness of breath, and cellulitis (skin infection that is swollen, hot, and red). Evidently Elizabethkingia bacteria are everywhere but  it needs warm, moist places to thrive.

“This is a particularly challenging outbreak as this bacterium is everywhere in the environment,” Bell said. “The number of possible risk factors is tremendous.”

The bacteria colonize and disseminate toxins that can lead to sepsis, causing the body to shut down.

The CDC now has eight investigators in Wisconsin interviewing patients and families to find a possible connection.