Health officials are warning the public to take extra precautions to prevent the bacterial disease, melioidosis, as they report an increase in cases this season in the Top End, according to a local media report.


“This wet season’s high rainfall has led to a 50 per cent increase in the number of melioidosis cases expected,” Vicki Krause, director of the Centre for Disease Control, said.

On average, the territory records 32 cases of melioidosis each wet season. So far this season, 48 cases have been reported.

Melioidosis (also known as Whitmore disease and Nightcliff gardener’s disease) is caused by the bacterium, Burkholderia pseudomallei. The disease though somewhat rare has been seen in areas of Southeast Asia and Northern Australia, particularly after heavy rains. In Thailand it is considered a disease of rice farmers.

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The organism is saprophytically found in soil and water. People usually get infected by contact with contaminated soil or water through skin wounds, inhalation or rarely through ingestion of contaminated water.

Person to person transmission can occur through contact with blood and body fluids of an infected person.

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Depending on how heavy the infection incubation can range from hours to weeks. Infection may show no symptoms but it can quickly progress to disseminated disease involving skin and a variety of organs.

Pneumonia from B. pseudomallei can be seen either in acute or chronic disease. Chronic pulmonary meloidosis may present itself years after exposure and can mimic tuberculosis.

Fatality rates of melioidosis can reach up to 75 percent even with appropriate antibiotic treatment. Fatalities are particularly greater in those with underlying conditions like diabetes mellitus or renal disease.