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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will work with state officials to determine the source of the Elizabethkingia outbreak that has been linked to 18 deaths in Wisconsin.

McKeown says finding the source of the bacteria affecting patients is a complex process.

Following identification of the initial cluster, DPH staff initiated epidemiologic, laboratory and environmental investigations to further characterize demographic and epidemiologic features and determine risk factors and potential reservoirs for infection.

"The Elizabethkingia infection has been detected in 44 patients located in southeastern and southern Wisconsin", state health officer Karen McKeown said in a statement.

Forty-four people in southeastern and southern Wisconsin have tested positive for a bacterium that causes a bloodstream infection, according to a release from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. However, officials can't say if they died from the bacteria or an underlying medical issue.

The agency is investigating how people came in contact with the bacteria, which rarely infects humans but is often antibiotic-resistant.

Symptoms include a fever, shortness of breath, and chills, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

The number of people known to be infected is expected to rise as more cases are identified and confirmed.

The department had been notified of six potential cases of an Elizabethkingia infection during the time frame of December 29, 2015, to January 4, which prompted a statewide surveillance to be set up January 5.

It has not been determined if their deaths were caused by the infection, other serious health conditions or both.