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Melioidosis in Australia: Northern Territory

19 February 2024

According to media, Northern Territory Health has reported 22 cases of melioidosis and 2 deaths among swimmers in the Top End area from 1 October 2023 to late January 2024.

Melioidosis is a serious bacterial disease caused by Burkholderia pseudomallei which is found in surface soil during heavy rain. Infection occurs by contamination of a wound or penetrating injury, inhalation and ingestion of contaminated food/water. Human to human transmission is extremely rare.

Contact with mud, puddles and wind-blown soil during heavy rain increases the risk of infection.  Symptoms include cough, skin ulcers, fever, headache, confusion, difficulty in passing urine, joint pain or swelling and bone pain. People with underlying medical conditions or immunosuppression are at highest risk. Melioidosis requires immediate treatment with appropriate antibiotics.

Advice for Travellers

Travellers may become infected in endemic areas if walking in muddy water, handling muddy items, or breathing air-borne particles for example when using a high-powered hoses.

Travellers should take precautions against the disease by:

  • Staying indoors during heavy winds and rain.

  • Wearing waterproof shoes and gloves around mud and areas of pooled water.

  • Wearing masks when using high pressure hoses outside.

  • Avoiding swimming in affected areas

  • Avoiding food and water that may have been contaminated.