06/01/2017 3:09 PM AEDT | Updated 09/01/2017 8:06 AM AEDT

Deadly, Invisible Bacteria Melioidosis Spreads In Top End Monsoon

One person is dead and 17 infected since October last year.

A spike in melioidosis has killed one and infected 17 in the Northern Territory.
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A spike in melioidosis has killed one and infected 17 in the Northern Territory.

A devastating spike in ground-dwelling bacteria melioidosis has left one person dead and 17 infected in the Northern Territory.

The bacteria, which kills between 10-15 per cent of people infected, is whipped up by wind and rain and Centre for Disease Control Director Vicki Krause said this year's monsoon season had plenty of each.

"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," 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."

Do you have 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.

You are more at risk if you have diabetes, kidney disease, lung disease or cancer, if you drink lots of alcohol, or take medicines that weaken your immune system.

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.

Krause said it was not always easy to diagnose.

"We usually see symptoms of fever, coughing and breathing difficulties but the symptoms of melioidosis can vary greatly."

She said people were more at risk if they worked outdoors, have diabetes, kidney and lung disease, or surprisingly, were heavy drinkers.

"People who drink an increased amount alcohol are at higher risk of getting melioidosis, this includes those who binge drink," Krause said.

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