The Mississippi Gulf Coast sign stands at the intersection of U.S. 90 and Cowan Road in Gulfport. Credit: Tim Isbell/Mississippi Today

The Mississippi State Department of Health announced Wednesday the detection of an “uncommon” bacteria on the Gulf Coast called Burkholderia pseudomallei. This is the first time it’s been found in the United States.

MSDH, working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, identified the bacteria after two people on the Gulf Coast were diagnosed with a rare disease called melioidosis. The disease, caused by Burkholderia pseudomallei, typically spreads through direct contact with water or soil contaminated with the bacteria, the CDC says.

The CDC says the disease is predominantly found in tropical climates, with cases being more common in Southeast Asia and northern Australia. It is now investigating how widespread the bacteria is in the U.S.

The disease has a wide range of symptoms similar to those of tuberculosis or pneumonia, such as fever, localized pain or swelling, coughing and headaches. Most people who come into contact with the bacteria never develop melioidosis, according to an MSDH press release. The National Institutes of Health estimates that anywhere between 30,000 to 200,000 people in the U.S. have the disease.

The CDC says that incubation period for the disease is unclear, but generally ranges between two to four weeks from exposure to the bacteria.

For anyone at risk of exposure to contaminated water and soil, MSDH recommends to:

  • Avoid contact with soil or muddy water – especially after heavy rains.
  • Protect open wounds with waterproof dressing.
  • Wear waterproof boots when gardening, doing yard work or agricultural work – it is critical to prevent infection through the feet and lower legs (after flooding or storms).
  • Wear gloves to protect your hands when working directly with soil.

Soil samples collected outside the homes of the two infected patients showed that the bacteria was present in the area since 2020, and that the soil was the likely source of infection.

“Individuals living on the Gulf Coast who have chronic illnesses such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, chronic lung disease, or excessive alcohol use may be at risk of severe illness from infection and need to take precautions to protect themselves,” the state health department said.

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Alex Rozier, from New York City, is Mississippi Today’s data and environment reporter. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Open Secrets, and on In 2019, Alex was a grantee through the Pulitzer Center’s Connected Coastlines program, which supported his coverage around the impact of climate change on Mississippi fisheries.