Illinois death linked to Elizabethkingia outbreak that killed 18

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A death in Illinois has been linked to the same strain of bacteria that has caused an unprecedented outbreak of infection in Wisconsin and one case in Michigan.

The Illinois Department of Public Health announced Tuesday an Illinois resident had died after contracting an infection from the bacterium Elizabethkingia. The bacterium is named for Elizabeth O. King, a bacteriologist who studied meningitis in infants. It's common in the environment, including water and soil, but it rarely causes infections.

In most cases, the infections appear in the patient's bloodstream. Elizabethkingia does not appear to be transmitted from person to person and the current outbreak has mostly affected people over 65 years old.

"Typically in a given year in the United States, we see 5 to 10 infections in humans with this bacteria. And over just the past few months there's been nearly 60 cases in just three states," said Dr. Chad Achenbach, Northwestern Medicine.

The Wisconsin outbreak was identified at the end of December. There have been 57 cases of Elizabethkingia in that state, and 18 of those people died. There was one, fatal case in Michigan and now one in Illinois.

"It does have a fairly high, what we would call a case fatality rate of nearly one third of those infected," Dr. Achenbach said.

We don't know much about victim here in Illinois. But state health officials say the person lived in the northern part of Illinois and was suffering from underlying health conditions.

"Maybe there's something about these individuals that are older and have other medical problems that are leading to the high death rate and not so much the bacteria itself," Dr. Achenbach said.

The symptoms of Elizabethkingia can include cough, headache, high fever, chills, joint pain, and in some cases, a skin infection called cellulitis.

Dr. Achenbach says the general public should not be concerned. He said the goal is to raise awareness among healthcare providers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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