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What is Melioidosis and how can you avoid it?
Melioidosis, sometimes called Whitmore's Disease after the scientist who discovered it, is life-threatening disease caused by the bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei.
How does Melioidosis spread?
Melioidosis is spread when you come into direct contact with contaminated soil and water. It can enter the body through open wounds, by inhaling contaminated dust particles or by ingesting contaminated water.
Is melioidosis contagious?
No. It is extremely rare for someone infected with melioidosis to spread it to other humans.
Who's at risk for this disease?
People in tropical areas of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, India, China, Vietnam and Northern Australia are most at risk since that is where the bacteria are usually found. It lives beneath the soil and comes to the surface during heavy rains, so people affected by flooding are particularly at risk.
What are the symptoms of melioidosis?
The symptoms of melioidosis can differ based on what part of the body is infected:
- Skin infection. If only your skin is infected, you may experience pain, swelling, ulcers, aches and fever.
- Lung infection. If you breath the bacteria into your lungs, you may experience fever, headache and shortness of breath. It may even lead to bronchitis or full-blown pneumonia.
- Blood infection. If the disease reaches your bloodstream through a cut on your skin, you may experience headache, fever, joint pain, stomach ache and difficulty breathing. This type of infection is more common in people with other risk factors like heavy alcohol use, kidney disease and diabetes.
- Chronic infection. This occurs when the bacteria enters the bloodstream and spreads throughout the body, affecting any number major organs including the heart and brain. Symptoms include fever, weight loss, joint pain and seizures.
How is melioidosis diagnosed?
Melioidosis can mimic the symptoms of other diseases so it usually can't be diagnosed by symptoms alone. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of melioidosis and doctors suspect you've come into contact with contaminated soil or water, they'll take bodily samples from you (like your blood, urine, pus and other fluids).
If they can grow the bacteria out of the sample, then its a clear sign you're infected.
How is it treated?
If you contract melioidosis, your treatment will consists of two stages:
- Stage 1: Intravenous antibiotics. For about 10-14 days, you'll get an antibiotic injection every 6-8 hours to keep your fever under control and to keep your body from shutting down. The antibiotics most commonly used are either ceftazidime or meropenem.
- Stage 2: Oral antibiotics. For about 10-20 weeks, you'll take an antibiotic by mouth to eradicate the bacteria from your system. The most common one is co-trimoxazole. Pregnant women and children under 12 may receive co-amoxiclav instead.
Can you prevent the disease?
The only way to prevent melioidosis is to limit your exposure to the bacteria that causes it. Here are some tips to help keep you safe if you live in an area where melioidosis is prevalent:
- Wear waterproof boots, gloves and clothing if you work on a farm, you're cleaning up after a flood or you work in soil or standing water.
- Stay completely away from soil and standing water if you have any open wounds or you have diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease or chronic lung infections.
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