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Increase in melioidosis prompts warning from experts

Published:  01 February 2023

North Queenslanders are being reminded to stay alert to the dangers of melioidosis as cases rise this wet season.

There were 43 cases detected in the region in 2022; an increase on the 17 cases in 2021.

Sadly, one person died from the disease last year.

Townsville Hospital and Health Service director of microbiology and pathology Dr Robert Norton said the disease mainly affected diabetics, those who excessively consumed alcohol, and patients who were immunosuppressed.

“Melioidosis is a serious infectious disease which is caused by bacteria within certain soils that are found in Northern Australia,” Dr Norton said.

“It can also enter the body when you breath in dust and droplets, or when you come into contact with contaminated water.

“Melioidosis can be treated with antibiotics but only after the disease is properly diagnosed, which requires a blood or urine sample.”

“Symptoms of melioidosis include infection in the lungs, pneumonia, fever, weight loss, muscle pain and headaches.

“These symptoms usually develop within three weeks of exposure to the bacteria, but in some cases the illness might not occur until months or even years after the initial infection.”

Dr Norton urged those who were at risk of serious illness to take precautions to avoid infection this wet season.

“Try not to work outside if it’s raining, control your diabetes, and try to reduce your alcohol intake,” he said.

“When you go outside, wear protective footwear and gloves, wash your skin thoroughly after exposure to soil or muddy water, and wear a mask if you’re using a hose or high-pressure cleaner around soil.

“If you are immunosuppressed and you develop a chest infection or fever, it’s important to seek medical assistance.”

Animals can also develop the disease but cannot transmit it to humans.

“We are very fortunate here in Townsville to have high-quality laboratories, so we are able to stay across and monitor any cases as they arise,” Dr Norton said. 

 Queenslanders can learn more about melioidosis by calling 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or visiting this page

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