The rains have started, be aware of melioidosis

Everyone in the Top End, including residents, travellers and visitors, needs to be aware that recent rains have increased the threat of the potentially deadly disease, Melioidosis.

There are about 50 cases of the soil-borne disease reported in the Northern Territory each year. The majority of cases are diagnosed during the Wet Season between October and May.

Dr Vicki Krause, Director of Disease Control and Environmental Health, Top End Health Service, said despite the late rains there had already been five confirmed cases of Melioidosis this Wet Season.

Recent heavy rains and the predicted monsoon in the coming weeks have increased the risk of the disease.

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

Last season, there were 42 cases and one death.

The majority of cases last year were in people aged between 35 and 65 years old with a few over 70 years of age. They were from all across the Top End, although most were from Darwin city and the rural area.

Melioidosis is a disease caused by the bacterium, Burkholderia pseudomallei, which is found in tropical soil. People come in contact with these bacteria during the wet season when the presence of the bacteria in surface soil and water greatly increases following the onset of the rains. 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 various other parts of the body.

“Skin sores that do not heal should be investigated for melioidosis.”

During the wet season, people should take the following precautions:

  • 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 if concerned.

The people most as risk of developing melioidosis are those who have existing conditions that impair their body’s immune system. These include:

  • diabetes
  • kidney disease
  • cancer and/or on immunosuppressive treatments
  • those who consume large amounts of alcohol (including those who binge drink).

Melioidosis can cause a variety of symptoms and signs including fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, abdominal pain, urinary symptoms and occasionally headache and confusion.

Anyone concerned about Melioidosis should visit their local GP or healthcare provider.

Further information on Melioidosis can be obtained on 8922 8044 or online at https://nt.gov.au/wellbeing/health-conditions-treatments/bacterial/melioidosis

Contact: Russel Guse

Phone: 0436 933 810

Last updated: 14 January 2020

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