The monsoon has brought a wet and windy beginning to 2017 and people in the Northern Territory (NT) need to be aware and protect themselves from the potentially deadly disease, melioidosis.
Since October 2016 there have been 17 cases of melioidosis reported in the NT, including one death. This number of cases is higher than expected when compared to previous years.
The Centre for Disease Control is warning that contact with mud, puddles and aerosolised soil during heavy rain increases the likelihood of exposure to the melioidosis bacteria.
“During the dry season, melioidosis bacteria live deep in the soil, but during the wet season, larger amounts of the bacteria come to the surface and the potential for contact with people is increased,” Centre for Disease Control Director, Dr Vicki Krause said.
“”The bacteria can invade the body through cuts and sores but it can also be breathed in if it’s stirred up by the wind.”
According to Dr Krause, an infection can sometimes lead to severe pneumonia and blood poisoning and unfortunately 10-15 per cent of people who are infected die, even if they receive the best medical care.
“We usually see symptoms of fever, coughing and breathing difficulties but the symptoms of melioidosis can vary greatly.”
People usually get sick one to 21 days after they become infected with the bacteria. In some cases the onset of symptoms is slow and may include signs like weight loss or sores that do not heal.
Staying indoors during heavy wind and rain, particularly if you have a weakened immune system is an important way to avoid exposure. People with weaker immune systems, such as those with diabetes, kidney disease, lung disease, cancer and treatment for cancer, and people on steroid therapy are at greater risk of developing the disease if the bacteria enter their body,” Dr Krause said.
“People who drink an increased amount alcohol are at higher risk of getting melioidosis, this includes those who binge drink.”
To avoid melioidosis, wear waterproof footwear around mud, soil and areas of pooled water and wear gloves when handling soil or muddy items.
“Gardeners, labourers and other people who work with soil should always wear protective clothing, as healthy people can get the disease if they work in or are exposed to mud, pooled water or aerosolised soil,” Dr Krause said.
“People using high pressure hoses around soil should use masks to prevent breathing in the bacteria.”
Anyone concerned about melioidosis should contact their GP or hospital.