Deadly Mud-Dwelling Bacteria Melioidosis Stirs In The Northern Territory

Vulnerable people are warned to stay indoors when it's raining or windy.

28/09/2016 11:50 AM AEST | Updated 28/09/2016 2:05 PM AEST
Ron Erwin
Melioidosis can get into your body from cuts on your feet.

Australians in the Northern Territory are being warned about a potentially deadly bacteria that stirs when it rains.

Melioidosis kills 15 percent of those who contract it and can be caught from mud, water and wind, especially in the wet season.

Centre for Disease Control director Vicki Krause said early September rains meant the bacteria was easier to contract.

"During the dry season, melioidosis bacteria live deep within the soil but as the rains set in, larger amounts of the bacteria come to the surface where they can come in to contact with humans," Krause said.

Have I contracted melioidosis?

Krause said symptoms of fever, cough and breathing difficulties were most common but melioidosis presentations could vary greatly and can include sores that do not heal and weight loss.

The incubation period from exposure to sickness can range from one to 21 days.

In Australia cases typically occur in the Top End of the Northern Territory and in far north Queensland and the Kimberley region of Western Australia.

"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."

Krause said people who were heavy drinkers or had chronic medical conditions were more at risk and should avoid going outside on windy or rainy days.

"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 enters their body," Krause said.

"People who consume large amounts of alcohol are at a greater risk of getting melioidosis and this also includes people who binge drink.

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Avoid exposure by wearing gloves and boots.

"It's very important people in any of these categories stay indoors during heavy wind and rain," Dr Krause said.

There is currently no vaccine against melioidosis and about 40 people contract the bacteria in Australia each year.

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