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Deadly Bacteria in U.S. Soil Not Linked with Lab Leak, Aromatherapy

The melioidosis-causing bacteria recently detected in U.S. soil samples isn’t likely linked to a 2014 “lab leak” in Louisiana, nor to a recently available outbreak sparked by an aromatherapy product, experts said.

Genetic sequencing indicated any risk of strain of Burkholderia pseudomallei detected in southern Mississippi is from the Western hemisphere, much like isolates within the Caribbean or Latin America, said Alfredo Torres, PhD, of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

Isolates from the recent melioidosis outbreak linked with aromatherapy products from Walmart were traced back again to a lineage in India, where in fact the products were manufactured. Any risk of strain identified in the accident at the Tulane National Primate Research Center in Covington, Louisiana, was a southeast Asian strain typically found in research, Torres said.

The bacterial special pathogens branch at CDC confirmed, within an emailed statement to MedPage Today, that the existing strain is genetically distinct from another two strains and “is really a new one which is not seen previously.”

The genetic sequences from the newest samples aren’t publicly available, the CDC said, but noted that sequences from any risk of strain mixed up in aromatherapy outbreak were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Novel Western Hemisphere Strain

CDC announced on Wednesday that B. pseudomallei was detected for the very first time in U.S. soil samples from the Gulf Coast region in southern Mississippi, raising concerns that bacteria which has previously been limited by tropical and subtropical regions may be becoming endemic in the U.S. The bacteria could cause melioidosis, an illness with an incident fatality rate in the number of 10-50%.

Environmental sampling in June 2022 was prompted by two U.S. cases, one in July 2020 and another in-may 2022. The patients — both of whom recovered — lived in close geographic proximity in southern Mississippi, based on the CDC’s Health Alert Network advisory.

The agency sampled household products alongside soil and water around both patients’ homes. Three samples which were extracted from the soil and puddle water of the house of the 2020 case were positive for the bacteria. CDC said this suggests environmentally friendly bacteria was the likely way to obtain illness — and that it is been present since at the very least 2020.

“Because there have been two cases in close geographical proximity infected by exactly the same strain, and positive environmental samples in one of the patient’s property, we are able to say that it’s at the very least locally endemic to the area,” the CDC statement to MedPage Today said.

CDC calls it a “novel” strain from the Western hemisphere that’s distinct from previously known isolates.

Lab Leak

In November 2014, seven research rhesus macaques at the Tulane National Primate Research Center were infected with B. pseudomallei, despite the fact that they hadn’t been involved with experiments with the bacteria there. A CDC statement on the agency’s investigation said the animals were in the breeding colony if they were infected, not in the laboratory.

While a particular transmission event was never identified, the investigation found safety lapses at the facility which could have resulted in transmission, including incorrect usage of outerwear to avoid clothing from becoming contaminated.

This “may have resulted in the bacteria clinging to inner garments and getting completed of the select agent lab where research had been conducted with the bacteria on mice,” the CDC report stated. “The bacteria might have been transferred in this manner to the breeding colony where in fact the non-human primates resided and/or to the clinic where routine examinations and treatments were administered.”

Any risk of strain identified in the outbreak was 1026b, that was originally recovered from the rice farmer who was simply sickened in Thailand in 1993, the CDC told USA Today in 2015 — thus unrelated to the Western hemisphere strain reported in today’s sampling.

The agency figured there is no evidence the bacteria have been released in to the surrounding environment.


Four cases from four states were mixed up in melioidosis outbreak linked to products from Walmart: a 53-year-old woman from Kansas, a 4-year-old girl from Texas, a 53-year-old man from Minnesota, and a 5-year-old boy from Georgia.

It took quite a long time to get the way to obtain the outbreak, but ultimately an example taken from another stop by at the Georgia boy’s home revealed at fault. Researchers determined any risk of strain matched bacteria endemic to India where in fact the product was made.

Walmart pulled the spray — Better Homes & Gardens Lavender & Chamomile GAS Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstones — from store shelves and stopped shipment of the merchandise from its warehouses in October 2021.

By May, the facility in India where it had been manufactured hadn’t determined the precise way to obtain contamination, the CDC previously told MedPage Today.

Next Steps

Torres said it isn’t surprising that the bacteria was detected in U.S. soil. He pointed to a 2016 Nature Microbiology paper that predicted some soils in southern U.S. states can host B. pseudomallei.

“It really is quite possible that climate changes are letting the pathogen [find] a fresh niche for survival in the soil and rather than being deep down from the top, the pathogen is currently at first glance and individuals will get infected with it,” he told MedPage Today within an email.

For next steps, the CDC said it really is “discussing with partners sampling ways of improve our knowledge of the geographic distribution of the bacteria in the surroundings in the U.S.”

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    Kristina Fiore leads MedPages enterprise & investigative reporting team. Shes been a medical journalist for greater than a decade and her work has been identified by Barlett & Steele, AHCJ, SABEW, among others. Send story ideas to Follow

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