The Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene (WSLH) has completed testing of laboratory specimens of two suspected cases of Elizabethkingia submitted last week, and determined one of those cases is related to the outbreak, bringing the number of confirmed cases of Elizabethkingia anophelis associated with this outbreak to 60. Most of the people affected by this outbreak are over 65, and all have serious, underlying health conditions. None of the confirmed cases associated with this outbreak are children.
According to State Health Officer Karen McKeown, this is the largest known outbreak of this strain in the United States. “Disease detectives in our Division of Public Health (DPH) have been working aggressively, with assistance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), to locate the source of the outbreak,” said McKeown. “Since the onset of the Elizabethkingia anophelis outbreak, we have worked diligently to provide accurate, comprehensive information, and to prevent the spread of misleading information that can lead to unwarranted fear among the public. Our top priority is the health and safety of the people we serve.”
Late last week, Governor Scott Walker received a letter from Democratic legislators expressing concerns about the DPH investigation of this outbreak. Today, DPH, the lead agency in the Elizabethkingia anophelis investigation, responded to the letter (PDF, 176 KB).
DPH staff first received reports of infected patients between December 29, 2015, and January 4, 2016. DPH immediately reached out to CDC for guidance on January 5, 2016, as this appeared to be an outbreak with a unique organism, and immediately launched the investigation with CDC’s guidance and assistance, and reached out to health care partners to request and share information.
“Our civil service employees (who include nationally recognized scientists) within DPH are committed to protecting the health and wellness of all Wisconsinites, and this is reflected in the work they have done investigating the Elizabethkingia anophelis outbreak,” said McKeown. “We will continue to work in collaboration with our partners at CDC, WSLH, local health departments, and with health care facilities and clinicians, to determine the source of the Elizabethkingia anophelis outbreak and provide appropriate treatment guidance.”
Elizabethkingia anophelis are bacteria that are rarely reported to cause illness in humans, but can cause infection that may be life threatening among people with compromised immune systems. DHS maintains a webpage that includes the latest number of cases related to, or potentially related to, the Elizabethkingia anophelis outbreak currently under investigation in Wisconsin. DHS will continue to share accurate information related to this investigation as it is available.
In early April, after meeting with DPH about the Elizabethkingia anophelis investigation, as well as other public health issues, Governor Walker approved the addition (link is external) of nine (9) project positions so that DPH may continue to work aggressively to locate the source of the outbreak, and continue its work on all other outbreaks that affect public health.
For more information go to the DHS Elizabethkingia webpage.