Rejoice in the rain but be aware of the unseen bacteria that re-surface every wet season

During the last fortnight of heavy rain and strong winds, there have been six cases of Melioidosis reported in the Top End.

“There have been 11 cases reported since October.  The majority of cases (Nine of the 11) have been men. All cases live in the Darwin urban and the greater Darwin region. The median age this wet season has been 54 years with a range from 34 to 91 years. More cases are expected as storms and strong winds continue to occur during the wet season,” Dr Krause Director of the Public Health Unit at the Top End Health Service said.

Melioidosis is a disease caused by bacteria called Burkholderia pseudomallei that live below the soil’s surface during the dry season. In the wet season the bacteria come to the surface of soil and can be found in mud and surface water. The bacteria can enter the body through cuts and sores on the skin, or by breathing in the bacteria if you go outside in heavy rain or strong winds.

“Diabetes is the most important risk factor for Melioidosis,” Dr Krause said.

“Other people at risk include those with kidney disease, chronic lung disease, cancer, hazardous alcohol intake (including binge drinking) or on immunosuppressive therapy such as steroid medication. Healthy people can get Melioidosis if they work outside with mud and water without adequate skin protection.”

Avoiding the bacteria is the best way to stay well this wet season.

“When it is rainy and windy stay inside. Your skin is the best natural barrier, keep it healthy and intact. Wear shoes when outside, gloves if you are working with mud or soil and a mask if using a high pressure hose outside. Take it easy with alcohol and avoid binge drinking,” Dr Krause said.

Melioidosis is treated with specific antibiotics. Treatment needs to be started in the hospital and continued when you go home for a total of at least three months.

For more information contact the Public Health Unit.

Contact: Russel Guse

Phone: 0436 933 810

Last updated: 28 January 2020

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