Deadly bacteria detected at Mayo Clinic: Three staff members exposed
A deadly bacteria that kills up to 50 percent of the people it infects was recently discovered at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona.
Three lab workers were exposed to the Burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria while testing samples from a 58-year-old man who had come in with an artery infection.
Employees were swabbed at Phoenix Hospital for three weeks to make sure they hadn’t become infected. All three tested negative on every test.
The bacteria is native to Australia and parts of Southeast Asia, but has made waves in the US after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned it is now endemic to the Gulf Coast.
Lab workers were exposed to the bacteria at the Mayo Clinic center in Phoenix, Arizona (pictured)
In the case report, one worker – with an underlying condition that was not detailed – was described as being at “high risk” of infection.
The individual took samples of the bacteria from a petri dish and placed them in a machine for testing.
It was unclear how they were picked up, but this was probably done using an object such as a pipette. They probably also wore protective gear.
The person had also tested the bacteria on an open worktop outside the biological safety cabinet, which can prevent the spread of the organisms.
The other two staff members were believed to be at ‘low risk’ of contracting the disease.
They had both repeatedly inspected Petri dishes where the bacteria grew, but were not reported to have picked up the bacteria, which would have brought them into closer contact.
All potentially infected employees had to measure their temperature twice a day for three weeks. They were also asked to report any symptoms.
Two of the three also agreed to serological monitoring for six weeks, which involves collecting blood samples and testing them for antibodies to the bacteria.
In each test, the employees showed no symptoms of illness. The blood tests also revealed no antibodies against the bacteria.
The exposures took place in mid-January 2021, but have only just been revealed in the magazine Emerging infectious diseases.
A total of 30 potential contacts were identified.
The staff were accidentally exposed to the bacteria because the samples were initially believed not to contain the potentially deadly organism.
It was unclear what happened to the patient diagnosed with a mycotic aneurysm or arterial infection.
Dr. Lisa Speiser, an infectious disease physician at the clinic, and others who contributed to the report said: ‘Lack of clinical and laboratory suspicion for Burkholderia pseudomallei (B. pseudomallei) resulted in incidental laboratory exposure of three workers.
“U.S. laboratories must remain vigilant and aware of the growth characteristics associated with B. pseudomallei to help prevent occupational exposure.”
Lab exposure to the bacteria is extremely rare in the United States because infections are not commonly reported. Only two cases have been recorded in the US medical literature, the last being in 1981.
Estimates suggest that about 12 Americans are diagnosed with the infection each year, although these are almost always related to travel.
The patients are diagnosed with melioidosis, a disease similar to tuberculosis or pneumonia.
The map above shows countries where the bacteria has been detected and the states in the US where the CDC says it is now endemic
B. pseudomallei is often found lurking in the bottom and in fresh or brackish water.
People can become infected after coming into contact with an infected area and then ingesting the bacteria.
It is also possible for infection to occur from inhalation of dust or water droplets that are contaminated.
In most cases, the bacteria cause no symptoms because the immune system can fight it off.
But when an infection sets in, patients may experience symptoms such as joint pain, fever, and headache in the early stages.
This can then progress to melioidosis, with the CDC warning that between 10 and 50 percent of cases are fatal.
Individuals living along the Gulf Coast who have conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, and chronic lung disease are at particular risk.