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Melioidosis warning

8 December 2017

With wet conditions starting to affect the Torres Strait, Cape York and Northern Peninsula areas, health authorities are warning residents to take precautions against melioidosis.

Tropical Public Health Services (Cairns) Director Dr Richard Gair said 11 cases of melioidosis had been reported within the health service region so far this year, including a death in January.

In 2016, a total of seven cases with no fatalities were reported throughout the Torres and Cape HHS region.

Dr Gair said residents of the Torres Strait, Cape York and Northern Peninsula areas should avoid unnecessary contact with muddy waters to minimise their risk of contracting the disease.

“Melioidosis is a potentially fatal disease with a 15–40 per cent chance of dying if you contract it,’’ he said.

Dr Gair said melioidosis was caused by a soil-borne germ typically found in muddy surface waters.

“The majority of infections occur when skin abrasions or wounds come into contact with wet soil or water contaminated by the bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei,” he said.

“Melioidosis is very uncommon in healthy adults and rarely seen in children.

“However, those with certain underlying diseases and conditions like diabetes, chronic lung or kidney disease and cancer are considered highly vulnerable.

“Symptoms of acute melioidosis include fever, cough and difficulty breathing; the effects can be very severe and almost always result in hospitalisation.

“Sometimes the disease may present as superficial skin infections or abscesses in various part of the body.”

Dr Gair said there was no vaccine to prevent melioidosis.

During the wet season adults, with an underlying medical condition, should take the following precautions:

  • Wear protective footwear when outdoors
  • Wear gloves while working in the garden, on the farm etc
  • Cover abrasions and sores with waterproof dressings
  • Wash thoroughly (preferably shower) after exposure to soil or muddy water, and after working outdoors
  • Diabetics should maintain optimal foot care, with help from a podiatrist if necessary.


Photo caption: Image of puddle of muddy water.

Last updated: 12 December 2017