Melioidosis cases on rise 30 December

NT Government

Top End residents and visitors are being urged to take extra precaution to avoid melioidosis following a recent spike in case numbers.

Melioidosis is a disease caused by the bacterium, Burkholderia pseudomallei, found in tropical soil and water.

Dr Rosalind Webby, Acting Director of Centre for Disease Control said people are more likely to come in contact with the bacteria during the wet season, when bacteria increases after heavy rains and concentrates in the soil surface layers.

“22 cases of melioidosis have been reported in the Northern Territory (NT) since 1 October 2022 with eight of these cases reported in the past seven days,” Dr Webby said.

“Approximately 50 cases of melioidosis are reported in the NT each year, with a majority of those diagnosed between November and April. To date, 13 cases have been reported this month, double the amount of what is expected for this time of year.”

Melioidosis bacteria can enter the body through cuts and sores. The bacteria can also be inhaled through dust and droplets when dirt is aerosolised during storms.

“Melioidosis most often causes lung infections and can also affect various other parts of the body, including causing skin sores which don’t easily heal,” Dr Webby added.

“If left untreated, melioidosis can lead to severe pneumonia and blood poisoning, with around 10 per cent of infections leading to death.”

Symptoms usually develop within three weeks of a person being exposed to the bacteria, but in some cases, illness may not occur until several months or years after the initial infection.

People are advised to seek medical attention early to ensure prompt diagnosis and treatment. Treatment usually involves intensive antibiotic therapy as well as management of symptoms, which may require hospital admission.

People with underlying health conditions are more likely to develop melioidosis. This includes those with conditions which lower immunity, such as diabetes, cancer, heavy alcohol intake, advanced age and kidney and lung disease, as well as people who take immune suppression therapy medications.

To avoid melioidosis, the following precautions should be taken:

• Wear covered waterproof footwear when outdoors

• Wear gloves while working in the garden or a soil-based environment

• Wash then cover sores and abrasions with waterproof dressings

• Wear a face mask while using high pressure hoses around soil and paths

• Stay indoors during heavy wind and rain

• Seek medical attention early.

Melioidosis does not usually spread from one person to another or from animals to humans.

A fact sheet with more information on melioidosis is available at here

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