Melioidosis in Townsville
In light of the devastating flood in the tropic region, GCG would like to spread awareness to those affected about a disease called Melioidosis, caused by bacteria found in contaminated water and soil.
The cleanup and rectification from the recent flooding in Townsville continues, with heavy assistance from GCG consultants who were stationed in the region. Adding to a challenging situation, cases of bacterial infection: melioidosis, has been on the rise. Since the flooding event, one person has died from melioidosis and over 10 others have been diagnosed with the disease. For this reason, we are hoping to improve understanding of this disease as it can be avoided.
Background on Melioidosis
The condition, Melioidosis, is caused by a bacterium called Burkholderia pseudomallei. The bacterium is endemic to the tropics, i.e. north of the Tropic of Capricorn. Melioidosis can occur in southern parts of Australia as well, but this is normally from bacteria being carried to those regions. Melioidosis-causing bacteria are commonly found in surface layers of soil and muddy waters. Due to the flooding event in Townsville, the soil has been extensively disrupted, and with it the bacteria.
Health effects following exposure can occur rapidly, with coughing, breathing difficulties, fever and pneumonia. Other less common cases have seen health effects present months or years following exposure, with skin infections and ulcers as well as abscesses in internal organs presenting. Most cases require hospitalisation, where severe cases may be fatal.
Although exposures to soil and muddy water are common, only a few who come into contact with the bacteria contract Melioidosis, or present with health effects. Those at greater risk of becoming ill are those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, lung/kidney disease, cancers, lowered immunity and those with excessive alcohol intake.
In an occupational setting, those workers in the tropics who may inhale or come into skin contact or inhale with soils/water have the highest potential for exposure to the bacteria. Roles such as defence, environmental samplers, pump crews and some civil construction workers are considered to have an increased likelihood of exposure to Melioidosis.
The sampling of water and soils for Melioidosis bacteria can assist in confirming the presence, but there are few specialist laboratories in Australia who are able to perform the analysis.
How to protect yourself
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to prevent the disease, so preventative controls such as protective clothing and covering abrasions/sores with a waterproof dressing are critical to prevent exposure.
If you are working in flood-impacted tropical regions, wearing the following protective clothing may reduce the possibility of contracting melioidosis:
- Enclosed waterproof footwear
- Long pants
- Waterproof gloves
- Long sleeve shirt
- Cover all open wounds with water-tight/water-proof bandages
If your immune system may be compromised, it is safest to rest during the recovery effort to reduce the risk of being exposed to the bacteria.
When wearing additional clothing and equipment in hot and humid areas always remember to consider your hydration and rest breaks.