County, state, feds investigating Lake Villa woman's bacteria death

  • Kimberly Cencula of Lake Villa died last month from the first confirmed Illinois case of the bacterial infection Elizabethkingia anophelis, according to health officials.

    Kimberly Cencula of Lake Villa died last month from the first confirmed Illinois case of the bacterial infection Elizabethkingia anophelis, according to health officials. Courtesy of Ringa Funeral Home in Lake Villa

 
 
Updated 4/13/2016 3:52 PM

Local, state and federal health officials are investigating the death of a Lake Villa woman in Illinois' first confirmed case of a bacterial infection that has killed at least 18 Wisconsin residents.

Kimberly Cencula, 52, died from Elizabethkingia anophelis, which is common in water and soil but not in people, authorities said. Officials said most people infected with Elizabethkingia have been 65 and older with existing health problems.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Lake County Health Department spokeswoman Leslie Piotrowski said her agency is working with the state and other agencies in investigating Cencula's March 29 death. Officials said it's not yet known how she contracted the Elizabethkingia bacteria.

Piotrowski said officials are unable to publicly shed light on what might have happened to Cencula.

"The details related to this case, they're considered to be private medical information," she said.

Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said the state is working closely with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the death.

"Investigations of outbreaks typically include collecting environmental samples to test for bacteria, talking with family and friends, lengthy questionnaires, and collection and review of medical records," Arnold said Wednesday.

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She said identifying the source of the illness is not always possible.

Most Elizabethkingia bacteria cases involve bloodstream infections, health officials said. However, infections in some people who have contracted the bacteria have been found in their respiratory system or joints.

Wisconsin has a total of 57 confirmed cases of the infection, and Michigan has one confirmed death from the infection, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

"At this time, it is difficult to offer specific preventive measures," Arnold said. "It's always advised to practice could hygiene practices like washing your hands frequently, especially for those in health care facilities."

Born in McHenry, Cencula worked as a model in New York and Hollywood "in her younger years," according to her obituary from Ringa Funeral Home in Lake Villa. She was known as an avid gardener who enjoyed a variety of flowers, in particular spring resurrection lillies.

Survivors include her husband Arthur Cencula Jr., children Jeffrey Bunkelman and Morgan Cencula, and mother Maxine Allbritton.

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