Call to stay vigilant for symptoms of melioidosis as heavy rains continue

NT Government

NT Health is reminding Territorians to be on high alert for melioidosis as the wet season rainy conditions continue.

Since the start of the wet season on 1 October 2023, there have been 22 cases and two deaths reported in the Northern Territory (NT), with six of those cases diagnosed in the past week.

More cases are expected throughout the wet season and it is critical anyone concerned about having symptoms of melioidosis get medical attention early.

Health professionals in the NT are on high alert at this time of year to identify possible melioidosis cases, as it is important treatment is started as soon as possible.

If left untreated, melioidosis can lead to severe pneumonia and blood poisoning, with around 10 per cent of infections leading to death.

Melioidosis most often causes lung infections presenting with fever, cough and shortness of breath but can also affect many variable parts of the body causing abscesses. Skin sores that don’t heal can be caused by melioidosis bacteria.

Case numbers in the last wet season (1 October 2022 to 30 April 2023) were higher than usual, with 87 cases of melioidosis and six deaths reported in the NT.

On average around 50 cases of melioidosis are reported in the NT annually, with the vast majority of those diagnosed between November and April.

Melioidosis is a disease caused by the bacterium, Burkholderia pseudomallei, found in tropical soil and water. While melioidosis bacteria live deep in the soil at the start of the wet season, heavy rain brings the bacteria in the soil and water to the surface. Wind can cause the bacteria to be blown into the air, which can then be inhaled through dust and droplets.

Melioidosis bacteria in soil and surface water most commonly enter the body through cuts and sores so it is important to protect your skin. Most people have their first symptoms of melioidosis one to 21 days after they are exposed and infected with the bacteria.

The risk of melioidosis is greater in those who may be immunocompromised by: diabetes, heavy alcohol consumption (including binge drinking), renal or lung disease, immunosuppressive therapy, cancer or advanced age.

To take precautions against melioidosis, Territorians are advised to:

· wear covered waterproof footwear when outdoors

· wear gloves while working in the garden or a soil-based environment

· wash then cover sores and abrasions with waterproof dressings

· wear a face mask while using high pressure hoses around soil and paths

· stay indoors during heavy wind and rain

· seek medical attention early.

Everyone and especially those with high risk factors need to be aware of these precautions and take actions to protect themselves from melioidosis.

Anyone concerned about having meliodosis symptoms should visit their local GP, clinic or hospital.

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