Elizabethkingia a growing concern in Illinois

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The Illinois Department of Public Health is on alert after a half-dozen victims in Illinois died and tested positive for Elizabethkingia. .

It’s in the water, it’s in the dirt, but rarely has it made people sick-- until now. Various forms of the Elizabethkingia bacteria have been linked to six Illinois deaths and 18 more in Wisconsin.

The Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, Dr. Nirav D. Shah, said 10 individuals in Illinois been affected by the bacteria over the past year and a half.

"This bacterium is of a strain that is different from a strain that has been responsible for the outbreak in Wisconsin,” Dr. Shah said.

All healthcare workers in Illinois have been urged to test for Elizabethkingia if someone presents with symptoms: fever, cough, chills and hot, red, inflamed skin. The edict has prompted more screening and ultimately more diagnoses. But that doesn’t necessarily mean there is an increased threat from Elizabethkimgia.

“One of the most intense areas of our investigation right now is to try to determine whether cases of Elizabethkingia infection are actually on the rise or whether because we’re looking for it we’re just finding more of it,” Dr. Shah said.

Six people in Illinois who were found to have Elizabethkingia died, but health expert stress the bacteria may not have killed them as they all had underlying health problems. All who tested positive were older than 65.

“We certainly don’t want folks to overreact by any means, but it is important to know this is a possibility. It exists in our environment, and it can cause disease.

What we at the agency are working on is trying to figure out who is infected, why they get infected, where and, most importantly, how we can prevent those infections in the future.”

Right now investigators are trying desperately to figure out the common thread between people who were infected. And at this point they say they may never know.