One resident of the Katherine region has contracted melioidosis, a mud borne disease which thrives in wet season conditions.
Sixteen people in the NT have fallen victim to the infection since October last year.
Top End residents and visitors are reminded to protect themselves from the potentially deadly soil-borne disease, as cases have increased in January.
Cases have been hospitalised with some very seriously ill, requiring intensive care.
Local Shirley Muir died from the disease shortly after contracting it during the 1998 floods.
“The heavy downpour and strong winds over the last two weeks have led to a marked rise in the number of melioidosis cases in the Northern Territory with nine cases reported over this two week period,” NT Centre for Disease Control director Vicki Krause said
Melioidosis, a disease caused by the tropical bacteria known as Burkholderia pseudomallei, is commonly known as gardener’s disease.
The disease can cause a variety of symptoms and signs but the most common presentation is that of pneumonia which means a person develops unexplained fever, cough and shortness of breath.
Other presentations include skin ulcers or sores that fail to heal, abscesses, weight loss, fatigue, abdominal pain, urinary symptoms and occasionally neurological problems such as headache and confusion.
“During the dry season, melioidosis bacteria live deep within the soil, but after heavy rains they can be found in surface water and mud and aerosolised soil,” Dr Krause said.
“Contact with mud, ground water and aerosolised soil during the wet season increases the chance of exposure to the melioidosis bacteria.”
“Cuts and sores are the perfect entry point for the bacteria to invade the body but it can also be inhaled if it’s stirred up by the wind,” she said.
Dr Krause said melioidosis infection can lead to severe pneumonia and blood poisoning and 10-15 percent of infections are fatal – even with the best medical care.
“Although much less common, melioidosis can occur in children. Parents should ensure children wear appropriate protective footwear and cover abrasions and cuts with a waterproof dressing to reduce direct exposure to mud and standing water,” Dr Krause said.
“The incubation period from when someone is exposed and infected to when they become acutely unwell can range from one to 21 days. In some cases the onset of symptoms is more gradual and can take longer to present.”
People most as risk of developing melioidosis have an underlying condition that impairs the immune system.
These conditions include:
- heavy alcohol intake
- Cancer and the regimens to treat cancer
- advanced age
- kidney and lung disease.
Top End residents and visitors should take the following precautions:
- Wear covered footwear when outdoors
- Wear gloves while working in the garden/soil-based environment
- Wash and cuts and sore thoroughly and cover them with waterproof dressings
- Wear face masks while using high pressure hoses around soil
- Stay indoors during heavy wind and rain
- Refrain from overuse of alcohol
- Seek medical attention early.
“Ulcers that are not healing or improving in a two week period should be assessed by a clinician,” Dr Krause said.
“It is important to seek medical attention early, so that appropriate diagnostic testing can be done and treatment can be started at an early stage.
“Anyone concerned about melioidosis should visit their local GP or hospital.”
Further information on melioidosis can be obtained from the Centre for Disease Control on 8922 8044, your local doctor and community health care centres.