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A rare bacterial outbreak in Wisconsin, which is suspected in the deaths of 18 people, is now attracting the attention of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bacteria, Elizabethkingia anophelis, is resistant to some common antibiotics, and can cause fever, difficulty breathing, chills, and skin infection. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that the bacterium has been identified in 44 cases of infection. Of those, 18 people have died since Dec. 29, though it has not been determined whether the infection directly led to their deaths.


Most of the cases have cropped up in people over the age of 65, who can be particularly vulnerable to bacterial infections. It’s not yet clear how those people became infected with the bacteria.

Disease detectives from the CDC are on the ground to figure out what might be behind the bacteria’s spread, but so far answers are lacking.

“CDC is assisting Wisconsin with testing samples from a variety of potential sources, including healthcare products, water sources and the environment, but to date, none of these have been found to be a source of the bacteria,” the agency said in a statement. “CDC currently has five disease detectives in Wisconsin assisting with the investigation, and anticipates sending additional staff in coming days. Several dozen epidemiologists and laboratory staff are also assisting from CDC headquarters in Atlanta.”


The bacterium has caused small hospital outbreaks in the past, leading experts to warn of its potential for hospital-acquired infections. It is named after American bacteriologist Elizabeth O. King, who discovered it in 1959.