14 February 2012
A seasonal record number of 54 notified cases of melioidosis, a potentially fatal illness, has prompted the NT Centre for Disease Control (CDC) to again warn Top End residents to be vigilant in protecting themselves from the soil-borne disease.
Of the 54 cases to contract melioidosis, three people have died from the disease.
CDC Director, Dr Vicki Krause said since systematic record keeping began in 1989, 54 cases is the largest number ever recorded by this date in the Wet Season.
"The melioidosis season begins when the rains start and ends when the ground dries out, so people will still be at risk of melioidosis for several months yet and people need to protect themselves," she said.
"The soil-borne disease is contracted when heavy rains bring the melioidosis bacteria from deep in the soil to the surface, where it enters the body via cuts and sores, or by inhalation if stirred up by the wind."
Dr Krause explained that the message was for all Top Enders but was especially targeted for those people with compromised immunity as they have a greater risk of developing melioidosis as severe or fatal disease.
"People with risk factors such as hazardous alcohol intake, diabetes, kidney disease, lung disease, cancer and treatment for cancer and those on steroid therapy should stay indoors during heavy wind or rain," she said.
"Most who have contracted the disease this season have had risk factors, but healthy people need to be vigilant as they too can develop the disease if they are exposed when they're outdoors around soil, mud and water."
To reduce the risk of contracting melioidosis the Department of Health recommends wearing waterproof footwear around mud, soil and areas of pooled water and to wear gloves when handling soil or mud soaked items.
"People who work outdoors, including backyard gardeners, need to cover up. Anyone using high pressure hoses around soil should ensure their mouth and nose are properly covered to prevent them from inhaling the bacteria."
According to Dr Krause, melioidosis can cause severe pneumonia and blood poisoning and has a mortality rate of 10-15 per cent, even with best practice medical care.
"Symptoms of melioidosis can vary greatly but most commonly we see indications of pneumonia such as fever, cough and breathing difficulties. Symptoms can also include weight loss and sores that won't heal," she said.
Anyone concerned about melioidosis should contact their local GP or hospital. More information is also available at:
Media Contact: Bridget Wild 89 992 818 or 0401 116 203