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Melioidosis risk continues in the Top End

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Top Enders are again being warned to stay vigilant against the deadly soil-borne disease melioidosis, with nine cases already confirmed this Wet Season.

Director of the Centre for Disease Control Dr Vicki Krause explained that the number of cases seen so far this Wet Season is consistent with the amount of rain the Top End has seen.

“We have had fairly consistent rain, including some large downpours which bring the melioidosis bacteria to the surface of the soil, creating a greater risk for people to become infected,” Dr Krause said.

The Centre for Disease Control is warning that contact with mud, ground water and aerosolised soil during the wet season increases the likelihood of exposure to the melioidosis bacteria.

“The bacteria normally invade the body through cuts and sores, though it can also be inhaled if it becomes airborne in windy conditions. The large storms that occur during the wet season provide perfect conditions for the bacteria to become airborne.”

According to Dr Krause, severe pneumonia and blood poisoning can be the result of melioidosis infection which has a mortality rate of 10-15%, even with best practice medical care.

“The most common symptoms are fever, cough and breathing difficulties but melioidosis presentations can be wide and varied.”

The incubation period from time of exposure to acute disease can range from 1 to 21 days. In a limited number of cases the onset of symptoms can be longer and will include features like weight loss or sores that do not heal.

“It’s very important that those at increased risk of disease stay indoors during heavy wind and rain,” Dr Krause said.

Risk factors for contracting melioidosis include:

  • Consuming large amounts of alcohol, including binge drinking
  • Weak immune system from cancer treatment, diabetes, and chronic diseases
  • Use of steroid therapy

For people who must be around mud, soil and pooled water they should:

  • Wear waterproof footwear and gloves
  • Cover their mouths and noses when using high pressure hoses

Anyone concerned about melioidosis should contact their local GP or hospital.

(Source: Northern Territory Government – Department of Health)

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Posted On: 10 January, 2014
Modified On: 13 April, 2014


Created by: myVMC