Be melioidosis aware

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With wet conditions affecting parts of the Torres Strait, Cape York and Northern Peninsula Area, health authorities are reminding residents to take precautions against melioidosis.

Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service Public Health Medical Officer Dr Allison Hempenstall said three cases of melioidosis had been reported within the health service region so far this year.

“While this is not a large number, it’s worth our communities being aware that cases are
occurring,’’ she said.

A total of nine cases of melioidosis were reported throughout the Torres and Cape HHS region in 2022, eight cases in 2021 and 12 cases in 2020.

“Melioidosis is a soil-borne bacterial disease that can cause pneumonia, abdominal organ, skin and bloodstream infections,’’ Dr Hempenstall said.

“While potentially fatal, melioidosis is treatable and curable with antibiotics.

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

“However, people who have diabetes, chronic lung disease, chronic kidney disease, cancer,
medication that suppresses their immune system and drink too much alcohol are most at risk of developing the infection.

“People may also be at greater risk of contracting melioidosis during and after significant periods of rainfall and flooding, given the likelihood of coming into direct contact with flood waters.’’

Dr Hempenstall said melioidosis was caused by a germ typically found in muddy surface

Residents of the Torres Strait, Cape York and Northern Peninsula should avoid unnecessary
contact with such muddy waters or flood waters to minimise their risk of contracting the disease.

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

“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.”

People are advised to see a health professional or their doctor if they suffer symptoms of melioidosis to ensure they receive appropriate treatment and care.

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

  • Wear protective footwear when outdoors
  • Wear gloves and consider a face mask 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.

Read about melioidosis on the Queensland Government website.