In an effort to address the uptick in cases of Elizabethkingia anophelis – a mysterious blood-borne illness – Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has approved 9 additional positions at the Department of of Health Services, according to a statement.
“It is important for us to make sure DPH has the resources needed to address the Elizabethkingia outbreak, and also maintain the ability to appropriately respond to other communicable disease outbreaks,” said DHS Secretary Kitty Rhoades in the statement. “The health of all Wisconsinites is, and will continue to be, our top priority.”
A total of 63 cases of Elizabethkingia anophelis have been reported to the Department of Health Services since its outbreak in November. From those cases, 19 people have died, including one case that was unconfirmed. However, since the majority of people who contracted the infection have a history of at least one underlying serious illness, it is unclear if these deaths were caused by the infection, other underlying serious health conditions, or both, said the statement.
This Wisconsin outbreak is the largest outbreak of Elizabethkingia ever recorded, Michael Bell, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told The Associated Press.
“The Elizabethkingia outbreak is unique to Wisconsin, which adds to the complexity of the investigation, and intensity of the workload,” said Karen McKeown, Wisconsin State Health Officer, in a statement. “With these positions, we can continue our work on prevention, education, detection and eradication related to the many communicable disease reports that come into our office.”
The source of the infections is still unknown at this time. But the CDC has sent additional disease detectives to Wisconsin to test a variety of sources, including health care products, water sources and food, to identify the source.
Signs and symptoms of Elizabethkingia can include fever, shortness of breath, chills or celluliti.
Two unconfirmed cases have been reported in Illinois, and none in Minnesota.