The horrible wait for Burkholderia pseudomallei

I am not a hypochondriac but I am cursed with an encyclopedic memory when it comes to obscure killer microbes and disorders. Add to this the fact that I’m a bit neurotic and borderline phobic.

Final result being Me:  haunted and tormented by medical factoids I’ve accumulated over the years which I’ve tucked away in this little insidious brain.

And this morning, a new worry for the kit.

The gruesomely named Burkholderia pseudomallei, a nasty shithole bacteria that can make you sick after living in your body for years!

If you’re unfortunate enough to be stricken by this rare critter and you develop melioidosis, you run a 10%-50% chance of dying. Even if you survive, the germ may leave you a residual gift:  brain damage.

When Lylah Baker, 4, from Bells, Texas, near Dallas, came down with a stomach bug two months ago, it began a slow spread that ended with a full body infection that invaded her brain and left doctors puzzled. They ran tests and attempted several courses of treatment blindly, unsure of what was afflicting the young girl.

Josy and Dustin Baker with daughter, Laylah


Eventually a test found an organism growing in Lylah’s blood that initially eluded identification. It was only after a neurosurgeon took a small sample from Lylah’s brain that the hospital was able to confirm this curly haired little girl from a small Texas town had been infected with deadly foreign bacteria that aren’t supposed to be sickening people in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent an advisory on June 30 to health professionals across the country warning that three people who live nowhere near each other – one each in Minnesota, Kansas and Texas – have been seriously sickened since March from infections with a potentially deadly type of bacteria called Burkholderia pseudomallei. It is supposed to be found only in tropical climates, primarily in Southeast Asia and northern Australia, where it infects humans and animals through direct contact with contaminated soil and water. That’s where it lives and grows.

Lylah, the only child among the three cases in CDC’s alert about the Burkholderia pseudomallei outbreak, has brain damage from her infection, her aunt told me.

Investigators from the CDC and three state health departments are in the early stages of trying to figure out how Burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria that aren’t native to the United States could have sickened three people who currently seem to have no connection to each other.

“At this time, the risk of exposure in the United States is unknown but is believed to be low,” the agency said in a statement.

The bacteria cause a disease called melioidosis that is difficult to diagnose because of wide-ranging and nonspecific symptoms that can appear days – or even years – after exposure. And it’s deadly: killing 10% to 50% of those who become infected.

I am more frightened of diseases in theory and within the scary context of symptoms. I’m absolutely petrified by symptoms of killer maladies and waiting for them to beckon with deadly signals. You see all those “symptom clickbait” lying in wait all over the internet? I pass go, and never collect. I don’t want to know any symptoms and being privy to early signs makes my heart feel heavy and my fight-or-flight instinct ready to do some flighting…

Like this stuff.

early symptom

It’s a horrible anticipation that festers in your soul as you apprehensively turn the jack-in-the-box crank. Except this is disease-in-the-box wherein each rotation of the crank represents a new symptom someone has sadistically described in detail somewhere on the net.

And the waiting, the waiting.




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