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Surge in Top End tropical disease cases

Top End residents and visitors have been urged to take extra precautions to guard against a deadly tropical disease after a surge in cases.

Melioidosis, which is found in soil and water, can enter the human body through cuts and sores, Northern Territory Health says.

The infectious disease, which is also called Whitmore’s disease, can also be inhaled through dust or droplets, especially during tropical storms.

“This wet season’s high rainfall has led to a 50 per cent increase in the number of melioidosis cases expected,” Vicki Krause, director of the Centre for Disease Control, said.

On average, the territory records 32 cases of melioidosis each wet season.

So far this season, 48 cases have been reported.

People are more likely to come in contact with the potentially deadly bacteria during the wet season, Dr Krause said.

That’s when they’re found in soil surface layers and muddy waters.

It can infect humans or animals but isn’t usually passed from one person to another or from animals to humans.

“Melioidosis most often causes infection of the lungs, ranging from mild bronchitis to severe pneumonia,” she said.

“In severe cases, it can lead to blood poisoning, with around 10 per cent of infections causing death.”

Melioidosis can also cause symptoms, such as fevers, cough, shortness of breath, weight loss, fatigue, abdominal pain, urinary symptoms, non-healing wounds and sores.

It may be mistaken for other diseases, such as tuberculosis or more common forms of pneumonia.

Symptoms usually develop within three weeks of exposure to the bacteria, but in some cases illness may not occur until several months or years after the initial infection.

People with underlying health conditions are more likely to develop melioidosis.

This includes those with conditions which lower immunity, such as diabetes, cancer, heavy alcohol intake, advanced age and kidney and lung disease.

People are advised to seek medical attention early to ensure prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Precautions, such as covering sores and abrasions with waterproof dressings, wearing waterproof footwear outdoors and staying indoors during heavy wind and rain, should also be taken to avoid the disease.

Melioidosis is caused by the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei.

It is predominantly a disease of tropical climates, especially in south east Asia and northern Australia, where it is widespread.

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