Remember the Texas 4 year old girl who was sickened by a mysterious, sometimes deadly, alien bacteria that is not supposed to be in the United States?
A clue to the possible source of what could have infected Lylah Baker and three others with the rare bacteria has emerged in a new report by investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments, who link a case of Burkholderia pseudomallei infection in Maryland to an article at the victim’s home:
Its freshwater aquarium.
Although the bacteria’s DNA fingerprints in Maryland’s case do not match those in the unresolved U.S. outbreak of 2021, health officials said in their report that they have launched further reviews of the pet store where she bought the fish and its sellers.
Also note? Lylah had a pet fish which died in February. Her aunt told USA TODAY over the summer that investigators were interested in testing the aquarium where Lylah’s Betta fish had lived.
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The new report also urges doctors to consider melioidosis, the disease caused by the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei, when treating patients with similar symptoms and known exposure to aquariums. And he recommends that public health officials ask questions about fish and aquariums when investigating cases of Burkholderia pseudomallei.
Tracking down an elusive bacteria
Lylah and three others – all in different states and none with any apparent connection – fell ill this year with melioidosis, the disease caused by the rare bacteria. One of the difficulties in investigating these cases is that symptoms may not appear for weeks, months or even years after exposure to Burkholderia pseudomallei.
The only places in the United States where Burkholderia pseudomallei occurs naturally are Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. It is mainly found in Southeast Asia and northern Australia.
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Two of the four patients had no known risk factors for melioidosis. The CDC said in August that two of the patients died, without specifying which cases were fatal. None had traveled to areas where Burkholderia pseudomallei lives and grows.
The latest report from health officials raises concerns about the potential for the disease to spread in the United States from freshwater aquariums. Burkholderia pseudomallei infects humans and animals through direct contact with contaminated soil and water. This is where he lives and grows.
Betta fish like the one Lylah had is a type of tropical freshwater fish native to Southeast Asia.
Do you have an aquarium? Health officials recommend “thorough hand washing with soap and water Before and after handling or cleaning aquariums and feeding fish, wear gloves to cover any cuts or injuries to the hand when handling fish or aquariums or to allow wounds to heal completely first. “
In all cases, the CDC and state health officials have launched investigations, examining medical history, food, environment, travel, household products, recreation and more, trying to find the source of the bacteria.
The case fatality rate for melioidosis ranges from 10% to 50%.
Special attention to aquariums
The CDC report describes the unusual 2019 infection of a 56-year-old Maryland woman who had not traveled overseas. An investigation at the woman’s home confirmed that Burkholderia pseudomallei was present in her aquarium.
“With freshwater aquariums as a newly recognized source of possible transmission of B. pseudomallei to humans, further investigations are underway to determine the extent of the contamination at the pet store retailer where the patient has. bought the pet fish, ”the new report says. .
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To prevent or reduce any possible exposure, health officials advise “to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling or cleaning aquariums and feeding fish, wearing protective gloves. cover any cuts or injuries to your hand when handling fish or aquariums or letting wounds spread. heal completely first. ”The report also warns against letting children clean the tanks.
In response to the Maryland case, health officials are also looking at “vendors who imported and supplied freshwater ornamental fish, aquatic plants, and aquarium water associated with this point. sale, ”since these vendors can distribute to pet retailers across the United States.
“Identifying possible sources of introduction of B. pseudomallei into the supply chain is essential for public health,” the report says. “The United States is the largest importer of ornamental fish, most of which are freshwater and originate in Southeast Asia, where B. pseudomallei is widespread in the environment.
And about 11.5 million American homes have pet fish.
Jason Lalljee is a graduate of the University of Chicago and an intern for USA TODAY Opinion.