The rains are continuing and cases of Melioidosis are increasing

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Following the recent rains everyone in the Top End, including residents, travellers and visitors, needs to be aware of the risk of contracting the potentially deadly disease, Melioidosis.

There are about 50 cases of Melioidosis reported in the Northern Territory each year, with the majority diagnosed between October and May - during the Wet Season.

So far this Wet there have been 16 new cases. The majority have been in the past month. Most cases have occurred in the Greater Darwin Area. However, the potential threat exists right across the Top End.

Director of the Public Health Unit, Top End Health Service, Dr Vicki Krause, said recent heavy rains and the predicted wet weather in the coming weeks increased the risk of new cases.

“In past years around 10 per cent of infections have been fatal, even with the best medical care,” she said.

Last year, (2018-2019) there were 42 cases of Melioidosis. The majority of those infected were between 35 and 65 years old.

Melioidosis is caused by the bacterium, Burkholderia pseudomallei, which is found in tropical soil.

The presence of the bacteria in surface soil greatly increases following the onset of wet weather. It can enter the body when areas of broken skin are exposed to contaminated mud or surface water.

“Cuts and sores are the perfect entry point for the bacteria to invade the body, but they can also be inhaled when soil gets stirred up by wind,” Dr Krause said.

Melioidosis most often causes pneumonia but it can affect other parts of the body.

Melioidosis can cause a variety of symptoms including fevers, a cough, shortness of breath, tiredness, abdominal pain, urinary symptoms, skin ulcers and occasionally problems such as headaches and confusion.

“Skin sores that do not heal should be investigated for Melioidosis,” Dr Krause said.

During the wet season, Top End residents should take the following simple precautions to protect themselves from contracting Melioidosis:

  • Wear covered waterproof footwear when outdoors
  • Wear gloves while working in the garden/soil-based environment
  • Cover sores and abrasions with waterproof dressings
  • Wear face masks while using high pressure hoses around soil
  • Stay indoors during heavy wind and rain
  • Seek medical attention early

Those most at risk of developing Melioidosis are people with existing conditions that impair their body’s immune system. These include those with:

  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Cancer and/or on immunosuppressive treatments
  • *And those who consume large amounts of alcohol (including those who binge drink).

People at high risk of developing Melioidosis should stay indoors during monsoonal weather. Strong winds can also make the bacteria airborne which can cause disease if inhaled.

If concerned, people should seek medical attention early by visiting their local GP or hospital so that doctors can do the appropriate testing and treatment can be started as soon as possible.

Further information on Melioidosis can be obtained from the TEHS Public Health Unit on 8922 8044, or from your local doctor and community health centres.

Information on Melioidosis is available at

https://nt.gov.au/wellbeing/health-conditions-treatments/bacterial/melioidosi

Information on non-healing ulcer is available at https://nt.gov.au/wellbeing/health-conditions-treatments/bacterial/non-healing-ulcers

Media contact: Russel Guse 0436 933 810

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