Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and more have high concentrations of this disease as do countries in the South Pacific, Middle East and Africa. The disease Melioidosis aka Whitmore’s disease is a bacterial illness caused by the bacteria burkholderia pseudomallei.
It is endemic in these areas and the bacteria that cause Melioidosis are found in both soil and water, two things that people are easily exposed to every day there.
The bacteria that causes the disease is so prevalent in certain geographical areas that labs are often contaminated with it, causing some errors in diagnosis of other diseases. This pathogen has often affected military troops of various nationalities that have served in the affected geographical areas.
Because the disease is fairly easy to pick up, some believe that the bacteria that cause it could become a potential biological weapon. However, due to the uncertainty of incubation and symptoms, it has not become one as of yet.
Transmission of the Disease
In addition to people, some animals are susceptible to the disease like dogs, cats, goats, cattle, horse, sheep and pigs. Soil and water contaminated with the bacteria is the most likely transmission of the disease with rainy seasons causing particular vulnerability throughout the endemic areas.
You could acquire the disease by simply inhaling dust from contaminated soil or walking through contaminated water with the water coming in contact with mucosal membranes and broken skin. Occasionally transmission from person to person could occur as well through the swapping of bodily fluids like in sex.
Symptoms of Melioidosis
There are several types of infections that can occur with this disease with incubation being anywhere from a two days to several years. The infection could be localized to one particular body part or it could enter the pulmonary system. The blood may become infected or even the organs in the body. Localized Melioidosis infections form a nodule under the skin and muscle aches and fever could occur.
The localized infection could then spread to the blood. People with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, AIDS and kidney disease are particularly affected and could develop septic shock. Normally healthy people may develop headaches, fever, diarrhea, pus filled ulcerations on the skin, disorientation and aching muscles.
Pulmonary infection from the disease can produce symptoms of bronchitis to pneumonia. You could develop fever, loss of appetite, muscle aches and headaches. When the internal organs are affected, a variety of symptoms could occur based on the organ affected whether it is the brain, liver, bones, spleen, lymph nodes, joints or skin.
Treatment of Melioidosis
Diagnosis is made through lab tests run on the ulcerated areas on the skin as well as the blood, urine and mucus. There is no vaccine available for the disease and treatment consists primary of antibiotics as the disease is bacterial based. Of course, treatment is most effective early on in disease progression.
Prevention is the best way to avoid Melioidosis. Avoid skin contact with contaminated water and soil, particularly if you have a pre-existing health condition like diabetes or kidney disease. Wear protective clothing and seek treatment at the first signs of illness.
Image: Wellcome Images, Wellcome Images