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Many of the new families to Northern Territory may not be aware of a few of the medical problems that are found there.  

Some of these conditions, like melioidosis, are not commonly encountered in other parts of Australia.  


What is Melioidosis?

Melioidosis is a disease caused by bacteria called Burkholderia pseudomallei.  The bacteria live deep in the soil during the ‘dry season’ and rise during the ‘wet season’ to be commonly found in surface water and mud.  Melioidosis is a common problem during the wet season in the Top End and in other tropical climates such as northern Queensland and South East Asia.


How can you get Melioidosis?

The bacteria that cause melioidosis usually enter the body through cuts or sores in the skin.  It does not usually spread from one person to another or from animals to humans.


Who is most at risk of getting Melioidosis?

Anyone can get Melioidosis, especially if they have cuts or sores, have poor hand and foot protection and are in regular contact with soil, mud and pooled water.  However, people who have one or more of the following conditions are more susceptible to infection: diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, lung disease, alcoholism and people who are on steroid therapy.


How do you know that you have Melioidosis?

People can become extremely ill within a few days of contacting Melioidosis.  They are usually very sick with fevers and chills.  Headache, confusion, difficulty with breathing and passing urine may also occur.  Melioidosis can be fatal and early treatment with correct antibiotics is very important.

In other cases Melioidosis may come on more slowly with symptoms of weight loss, intermittent fever, chest or abdominal pain and a cough.  Some people develop abscesses or boils in the skin, joints, bones, liver, spleen or other internal organs.

Melioidosis is diagnosed by testing a sample of blood, sputum, pus or urine.


Can Melioidosis be prevented?

Melioidosis can be prevented! Always wear waterproof shoes or boots when you are outside in the wet season when you are gardening, walking, where there is pooled water or when working in muddy conditions. Protective gloves should also be worn when handling soil.


What is the Treatment?

Most people need to be admitted to hospital initially.  They are treated with antibiotics for a period of at least three months.  Most people will recover completely when treatment is started early.


Top End Facts

In the last 10 years there have been around 300 cases of Melioidosis in the Top End and of those 50 people have died as a result of complications associated with the infection. The most important preventative measure against Melioidosis is to avoid contact with muddy soils and surface water in the wet season wherever possible.  This is especially important after periods of heavy rainfall, when the risk of getting infected with the Melioidosis bacteria is highest.  This includes activities in your own gardens and yards as well as elsewhere.


If you are sick with a fever, remember to mention Melioidosis to your doctor, especially if you are travelling down south where Melioidosis is not well known.



Source: subTropical Gardening magazine - Issue 2

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