Post cyclone melioidosis warning

In the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Marcus, Top End residents and visitors are being urged to continue protecting themselves from the potentially life-threatening soil-borne disease, melioidosis.

“Melioidosis is seen most frequently after heavy rain, and many Territorians will now be in the garden cleaning up after the cyclone so it is particularly important to protect against it at this time,” said Dr Peter Markey Acting Director of the Centre for Disease Control.

"Usually there are 35 - 50 cases of melioidosis reported in the Northern Territory each year and so far we have had 38 this wet season.

Dr Markey said melioidosis is an environmental bacterium and a common cause of serious pneumonia and blood poisoning in the Top End.

"The bacteria live below the soil's surface during the dry season and are found in surface water and mud and can become airborne after heavy rain.  

“It can enter the body through cuts and sores in the skin, but acquiring the bacteria through inhalation of dust or droplets is also possible.

“People most at risk are those with health concerns such as diabetes, hazardous alcohol intake, kidney disease, lung disease and cancer, as well as those on steroid therapy or other immunosuppressive treatment. Healthy people can get the disease if they are working in muddy soil without good hand and foot protection.

"Everyone should take extra care cleaning up after the cyclone ensuring they wear appropriate clothing; gloves, closed in shoes, long pants and long sleeves.  

After encountering muddy situations shower or wash as soon as possible so not to leave mud on the skin for a long time.

When using high-pressure hoses wear a facemask, particularly after a cyclone and especially for those who have a higher risk due to the aforementioned conditions.

Wash all cuts thoroughly in water and cover with a bandage as soon as possible.  If the wound is not healing or it becomes infected, seek medical advice.

"The symptoms of melioidosis can vary. The most common presentation we see is for pneumonia, with a cough, fever and shortness of breath.

The incubation period for acute melioidosis can range from one to 21 days, with some people becoming extremely ill within a few days of exposure to the bacteria.

Symptoms, which can develop in a few days, include:

  • fever
  • headaches
  • confusion
  • breathing difficulties

Symptoms slower to develop are:

  • weight loss
  • intermittent fevers
  • chest and abdominal pain
  • sores or wounds that will not heal

“We have seen three deaths due to melioidosis this wet season. Those most at risk of dying from the disease are people who have one or more risk factors.

If concerned about melioidosis please contact your local GP or hospital.

A fact sheet with more information on melioidosis is available at:
https://nt.gov.au/wellbeing/health-conditions-treatments/bacterial/melioidosis

Last updated: 26 March 2018