Rare Bacterial Infection Claims 18 Lives in Wisconsin, Leading CDC to Launch Investigation
03/04/2016 AT 02:45 PM EST
The infection results from a naturally occurring bacteria, which is found in soil, fresh water and reservoirs, health officials said.
While the agency is unsure as to how infected individuals came in contact with the bacteria – seeing as it's rare – they do know that it is resistant to antibiotics and are prone to target people who are 65 years old with underlying health issues.
"At this time, the source of these infections is unknown and the department is working diligently to contain this outbreak," state officials said in a press release, adding that since surveillance was established, "there has been a rapid identification of cases and healthcare providers have been able to treat and improve outcomes for patients."
So far, there have been 18 deaths and 44 cases infection in Wisconsin since first being reported between Dec. 29 and Jan. 4. Symptoms in patients include fever, shortness of breath, chills or cellulitis.
"Determining the source of the bacteria affecting patients in Wisconsin is a complex process," Wisconsin State Health Officer Karen McKeown said in a press release. "While we recognize there will be many questions we cannot yet answer, we feel it is important to share the limited information we have about the presence of the bacteria, as we continue our work to determine the source."