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WI health officials trying to figure out source of deadly blood infection

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Four more cases of a deadly bloodstream infection have been reported in Wisconsin as health officials continue to investigate its source.

Since November, 48 cases of Elizabethkingia anophelis have been reported to the Wisconsin Division of Public Health, health officials said in their weekly update Wednesday. Eighteen people who tested positive for the infection have died.

The increase in number of cases is concerning, Dr. Dave Warshauer, the deputy director of Wisconsin State Hygiene Communicable Disease, told WKOW, noting laboratories typically only see one case a year.

In fact, it's the largest outbreak of Elizabethkingia ever recorded, Michael Bell, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told The Associated Press.

The CDC is working with Wisconsin health officials to test a variety of sources, including health care products, water sources and food, the Journal Sentinel reports, but the "source of these infections is unknown," health officials say. The CDC says it is bringing in three more disease detectives to help investigate the source of the outbreak, WKOW says. There are already eight epidemiologists working in the state currently.

More on the infection

Elizabethkingia is a bacteria that can be found anywhere, but it doesn't usually cause human disease, University of Wisconsin Health Infectious Disease Specialist Nasia Safdar explains. But when a person does contract the infection, it can cause blood, skin and/or respiratory infections – which are mostly treatable, though the bacteria is resistant to some antibiotics.

Health officials say the majority of people who contracted the infection in this outbreak are over the age of 65 and have a history of at least one underlying serious illness, noting it's not clear if underlying illness was the cause of death in the fatal cases.

The infection has been reported in 12 Wisconsin counties, mostly in the southern and eastern part of the state, including: Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Jefferson, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Sauk, Sheboygan, Washington and Waukesha, the Wisconsin Division of Public Health says.

Two unconfirmed cases have been reported in Illinois, reports note, and officials wouldn't be surprised if the outbreak expanded further, the Journal Sentinel says.

No cases have been reported in Minnesota.

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