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Sudden fever, shortness of breath, chills…just the kind of “funk” that leads countless patients to the urgent care center. Well-informed providers are learning to look a little closer at such patients, though, with 21 people having died this year already from a usually obscure bacterial infection. Elizabethkingia anophelis is marked by symptoms often synonymous with the common cold, though its outcomes can be far more serious. Scores of cases have been reported in Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin alone in recent months, making this the largest outbreak ever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By comparison, five to 10 cases are reported nationally in a typical year. The CDC is at a loss to explain the surge, or even typical transmission routes. Most of the patients have been described as “old and ill,” with a median age of 72. In addition, 44% had moderate to severe kidney disease, 39% had congestive heart failure, 38% had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and 36% had diabetes. Notably, about a third of patients presented with pneumonia and another third with soft tissue infections. Urgent care providers who see patients who may fit this pattern should refer for testing and inform local/state health departments and the CDC.

Common Symptoms Could Lead Patients with Elizabethkingia anophelis to Urgent Care