JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – A bacterium that causes a rare and sometimes deadly disease was found on the Mississippi Gulf Coast recently.

Health experts at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) said Burkholderia pseudomallei, the uncommon organism that causes the disease melioidosis, cannot be killed and is here to stay.

In order to become infected by the bacteria, the conditions must be right.

“Infections in very general terms are dependent on the route of exposure, the length of time of exposure, and the amount of exposure,” said Dr. Larry McDaniel, a professor in the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology and the Center for Immunology and Microbial Research. “It needs to have the right situation.”

An investigation by the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 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.

McDaniel said the bacteria can be found in dirk, water and sometimes on plants.

“Transmission from human to human is highly unlikely unless there is prolonged close contact with someone infected,” McDaniel said.

People with chronic diseases such as diabetes, kidney or lung disease, or excessive alcohol use are at risk for severe illness. According to MSDH, symptoms for the bacteria include fever, headache, and joint pain. The infection could potentially lead to pneumonia and blood infections.

“People should be cautious about whatever they are doing when they dig in the dirt, or do anything that could disturb the organism,” McDaniel said.

Someone with a severe infection needs IV antibiotics for at least two weeks, and depending on the response to therapy, can go up to eight weeks followed by months of oral antibiotics to prevent relapse. Occasionally, a patient with a mild infection can be treated with oral antibiotics, according to UMMC officials.

It’s unknown how the bacterium made its way to the Gulf Coast.

“The organism is here, and you’re not going to get rid of it,” McDaniel said. “You can’t spray the soil and make it go away. You should use common sense to protect yourself and others.”