State epidemiologist provides additional information on rare bacteria found on the coast

Photomicrograph revealing numerous Burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria, Photo Date: 1977
Photomicrograph revealing numerous Burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria, Photo Date: 1977(CDC/ Dr. W. A. Clark)
Published: Jul. 29, 2022 at 8:42 PM CDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - On Wednesday, it was reported the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) discovered Burkholderia pseudomallei, a melioidosis-inducing bacteria, in soil samples taken from the coast of Mississippi.

The bacteria can be found more often in regions such as Southeast Asia, northern Australia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. However, this is the first discovery of the bacteria in the United States. While it’s still unclear how the bacteria made its way across the pond, MSDH officials are making it a point to advise residents in the region to take the steps necessary to avoid being infected.

“The bacteria were isolated in samples taken from the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers. “It is possible that the bacteria are present in the soil of the lower three Coastal counties, and it is important for residents at a higher risk take appropriate precautions, regardless of where they reside on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

Dr. Byers also noted that the bacteria could be found in both soil and fresh water.

With the bacteria normally residing in tropical climates, could the coast’s unusually wet summers over the past few years play a part in the bacteria inhabiting southern soils?

“Unknown, but the bacteria has been present in all likelihood since 2000, the year the first case was identified,” said Dr. Byers.

According to CDC reports, around 12 cases of melioidosis are reported annually in the United States. However, these cases are reported to be linked with products imported from “disease-endemic countries” as well as people who have recently traveled to one of those countries, differing from Mississippi’s environmental contamination cases.

Residents living in the area are advised to:

  • Avoid contact with soil or muddy water, particularly after heavy rains, and protect open wounds with waterproof dressings.
  • Wear waterproof boots when gardening, doing yard work, or doing agricultural work, which can prevent infection through the feet and lower legs---particularly after flooding or storms.
  • Wear gloves to protect the hands when working directly with soil.

For more information on B. pseudomallei and melioidosis, visit the MSDH and CDC websites.

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