JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on Wednesday, July 27 that a rare bacteria in the United States was found in soil samples along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.

This uncommon bacteria is known as Burkholderia pseudomallei, which can cause Melioidosis. Melioidosis is found in contaminated water and/or soil.

According to MSDH, the investigation was conducted because two individuals (cases) of melioidosis – both on the Gulf Coast – became sick two years apart.

Soil samples collected around the patients’ homes tested positive for the bacteria at the CDC. Heath experts say this indicates that bacteria from the environment was the likely source of infection for both individuals and that the bacteria have been present since 2020. 

State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers says most cases that occur in the US are because of travel to other countries where the bacteria have been known to normally occur. 

“Typically, we see these bacteria in countries where the bacteria are endemic or where it normally occurs. Burkholderia pseudomallei normally occurs in tropical and sub-tropical areas like Southeast Asia or Central or South America. Because of the identification of this bacteria on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, persons at high risk for severe infection living on the Gulf Coast should take recommended precautions,” said Byers.

According to the MSDH, symptoms for the bacteria include fever, headache, and joint pain. The infection could potentially lead to pneumonia and blood infections.

Health experts said many healthy people who come into contact with Burkholderia pseudomallei never experience Melioidosis. Individuals who suffer with diabetes, chronic kidney disease, chronic lung disease, or usage of excessive alcohol are at higher risk.

Dr. Geri Weiland, president of the Mississippi State Medical Association (MSMA), said the bacteria is so uncommon that it hasn’t yet reached its peak to become severe in cases.

“I know this is new to everyone, but this is also new to us,” said Dr. Weiland. “I still advise that individuals take the proper precautions to decrease the chances of getting it.”

Weiland said people who are in contact with soil should avoid contact with soil or muddy water after it rains, wear waterproof boots, wear gloves, and protect open wounds.