Space & Innovation

5 Things to Know About Elizabethkingia

So far, the bacteria, which first appeared in Wisconsin, has been linked with 20 deaths.

An outbreak of a rare bacterial illness that first appeared in Wisconsin has now popped up in two nearby states, officials say.

This week, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced that a patient there died of an infection with the bacteria Elizabethkingia anophelis - the same bacteria that has infected 59 people in Wisconsin and one person in Michigan. So far, the bacteria has been linked with 20 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Photos: The Art of Microbiology

Here are some important things to know about the outbreak.

Why is this outbreak unusual?

One reason the outbreak is puzzling is that Elizabethkingia rarely causes illness in people. Typically, each U.S. state reports about five to 10 cases of Elizabethkingia infections per year, the CDC says. The current outbreak is the largest ever of this strain of bacteria in the United States. [6 Superbugs to Watch Out For]

Who is most at risk for infection?

Most of the infections have been in people over age 65 who had at least one serious underlying health condition. Often, the people who are infected have weakened immune systems, the CDC said.

How deadly is the bacteria?

About a third of people infected with Elizabethkingia in the current outbreak have died. However, officials have not yet determined whether the bacteria was the actual cause of death in these cases. These people could have died from their underlying illness, or a combination of their illness and the bacterial infection, the CDC said.

Most of the people in the outbreak have had bloodstream infections with Elizabethkingia, but in a few cases, the bacteria was found in the respiratory tract or the joints, the CDC said.

Where did the bacteria involved in the outbreak come from?

Elizabethkingia is commonly found in soil, rivers and reservoirs, but officials have not yet determined the source of the bacteria in the current outbreak. Officials are testing samples from the facilities where people were treated, including health care products and water sources, but so far, none of these samples has tested positive for the bacteria, the CDC said.

How is it treated?

Elizabethkingia is resistant to many antibiotics that doctors typically use to treat bacterial infections. But fortunately, doctors have identified several antibiotics that work to treat the bacteria in the current outbreak, the CDC said. These antibiotics include fluoroquinolones, rifampin and trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

It's crucial to spot the illness early so that patients can get the appropriate treatment, the CDC said.

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Original article on Live Science.

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Elizabethkingia anophelis bacteria growing on a blood agar plate.

Rarely has anyone looked at a potentially fatal infectious disease and exclaimed, "Now, that is a thing of beauty." One sculptor, however, has taken bacteria and viruses from their invisible world and placed them in ours.

Artist Luke Jerram has created a collection of glass artwork in the shape microorganisms -- bacteria and viruses no less that have the potential to infect or even kill human beings. By bringing these microscopic marauders to the light, Jerram demystifies these otherwise unknowable microorganisms. And using glass as a medium reinforces not only the fragility of the work, but also our own in the face of these diseases.

In this slide show, take a closer look at some of the highlights from Jerram's glass microbiology collection.

Turning HIV into a work of art is a seemingly impossible task. The virus is responsible for the deaths of an estimated 34 million people worldwide since the epidemic was first reported in 1981, according to UNAIDS, the joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

The HIV virus sculpture was the first Jerram built for his collection.

If there's one disease that has plagued humankind throughout its history, it's malaria. In 2010, the World Health Organization estimated that more than 200 million people were infected with the disease, mostly in poverty-stricken regions of sub-Saharan Africa, but also parts of South America and Southeast Asia.

Malaria is transmitted through mosquito bites. Mosquito nets, insect repellant and pesticides are all effective means of prevention, but only for those with the available resources and access to afford them.

Looking at this spindly sculpture might make you the slightest bit queasy, and for good reason. E. coli is represented by this glass artwork. Although most E. coli strains are in fact harmless to humans, the strains we're most acquainted with are the ones that cause food poisoning.

This alien-looking sculpture is actually T4 Bacteriophage, a virus that targets E. coli bacteria.

Bacteriophages are small viruses that attach to the cell membrane of bacteria. The virus injects its DNA into the bacteria, which then produces replicas of the virus, filling the bacterium until it bursts.

If this model is giving you that nostalgic feeling of plagues past, you might not be surprised to find out that this work represents Severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

SARS made global headlines in 2003 when people in 37 countries and nearly reached pandemic levels. Although coverage of the illness was widely criticized for overstating the threat, nearly 9,000 were infected with the disease, with had a nearly 10 percent fatality rate.

Swine flu, shown here, was another contagious disease that drew global attention that Jerram selected for his exhibition, but this time it was personal. According to his website, Jerram came down with swine flu and constructed the sculpture "with a fever whilst swallowing my Tamiflu tablets every few hours."

Swine flu, or H1N1 strain of the influenza virus, made global headlines in 2009 as the next potential major flu epidemic. Though common among pigs, swine flu is rarely transmitted among humans. When it does infect a human, however, the symptoms associated with the virus, typical of other flu strains, are particularly acute.

Given just how common the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is among humans, you'd think this virus, pictured here, wouldn't be so controversial. In fact, it isn't, but the use of a vaccine to prevent the infection, which can lead to certain kinds of cancers in women.

Because the virus can be transmitted sexually, however, the idea of vaccinations, particularly compulsory ones for children -- the vaccine is in fact intended only for people 25 and younger -- generated a considerable pushback, despite the obvious benefits of the treatment.

Hand, foot and mouth disease might not get a lot of press, but these disease outbreaks are in fact fairly common, particularly among infants and children. Occasionally, they can be fatal. Symptoms are similar to the flu, with the exception of sores that can appear all over the body, but particularly the hands, feet and mouth of the carrier.

This final entry is an unrealized future mutation for a disease that doesn't exist yet. Look for it in a contaminated water main, food source or loving pet near you. (But seriously, don't.)