Burkholderia Pseudomallei Infection Lawyer

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Burkholderia pseudomallei is a bacterium that only grows in certain parts of the world. However, it’s important to know about its effects, as it has a high mortality rate.

Read on to learn about its causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment methods, and more.

What Is Burkholderia Pseudomallei?

Burkholderia pseudomallei, formerly known as Pseudomonas pseudomallei, is a Gram-negative bacterium. It dwells in tropical and subtropical soils worldwide, though it is most common in southeast Asia and northern Australia. People have also reported cases areas such as:

  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Puerto Rico
  • Brazil
  • Mexico
  • El Salvador
  • Guyana
b Pseudomallei infection

The bacterium causes a serious disease called melioidosis, though some people refer to the condition as Whitmore’s disease (named after Alfred Whitmore, who was the first to discover B. pseudomallei in 1911). You may also hear people refer to it as B. mallei. It is closely related to the B. Cepacia bacteria which was linked to numerous infections and deaths in the US after several medications were found to be contaminated.

Is a B. Pseudomallei Infection Contagious?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that while melioidosis is technically contagious, it’s rare for one person to pass it to another.

How Do You Get a Burkholderia Pseudomallei Infection?

Humans and animals typically get melioidosis, the disease caused by a Burkholderia Pseudomallei infection, when they come in direct contact with contaminated water or soil. Interestingly enough, plants can even contract this disease.

Types of contact that may lead to B. pseudomallei infection include:

  • Swallowing contaminated water
  • Consuming soil-contaminated food
  • Contaminated soil entering the body via an open wound
  • Inhaling contaminated water droplets or dust

As such, your risk for melioidosis increases if you:

  • Live in south-east Asia, northern Australia, or other areas with contaminated water or soil
  • Perform agricultural work in these areas

You may also be at higher risk if you have pre-existing conditions such as:

  • Thalassemia
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Renal disease
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Other conditions that affect the patient’s normal immune response

How Do You Prevent Infection from B. Mallei Bacteria?

Because melioidosis is dangerous to humans and difficult to treat, prevention is ideal. We recommend taking preventative measures such as:

  • Avoiding standing water or soil if you have open wounds or are an at-risk individual
  • Wearing boots and other protective clothing when doing agricultural work
  • Using PPE equipment when working with a patient who has melioidosis
  • Using caution when traveling to contaminated areas

How Dangerous is the Burkholderia Pseudomallei Bacteria?

Melioidosis is very dangerous, with some regions reporting case fatality rates as high as 40%. To make matters worse, the disease is difficult to diagnose and doesn’t respond to traditional antibiotic regimens.

One source estimates that the world sees 165,000 human cases every year, with up to 66,000 proving fatal. Though, it’s worth mentioning that underreporting makes it difficult to gauge the exact mortality rate.

What Are the Sign & Symptoms of Infection From Burkholderia Pseudomallei?

Mortality rates and responses to B. pseudomallei will depend on virulence factors such as:

  • Access to treatment
  • Early detection
  • Individual risk factors for melioidosis

The signs and symptoms of melioidosis will also vary depending on the type of infection. Here’s a look at the four main types of this infectious disease:

Local Symptoms

As the name suggests, this type of melioidosis is localized. It causes pain or swelling in certain areas like the parotid glands.

Most patients will get a fever and experience ulcerations on or below the skin.

Symptom in the Bloodstream

Bloodstream infections can quickly develop into septic shock. Signs include:

  • Headaches
  • Fever (especially with chills and sweats)
  • Sore throat
  • Upper stomach pain
  • Disorientation
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abscess formation

Disseminated Symptoms

This iteration of B. pseudomallei can lead to:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Stomach or chest pain
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Seizures

Pulmonary Symptoms

A B. pseudomallei pulmonary infection may arise on its own or because of a bloodstream infection. In any case, it leads to symptoms such as:

  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lung abscess
  • Weight loss
  • High fever
  • Headaches
  • Muscle soreness

Regardless of the type of infection, patients can experience varying incubation periods. Symptoms may not present themselves for months or even years after initial exposure. In most cases, however, symptom onset occurs after the typical two-to-four-week incubation period.

How Is a Burkholderia Pseudomallei Infection Diagnosed?

Getting a melioidosis diagnosis can be difficult, considering that the symptoms mimic those of other diseases.

Even if you believe you came into contact with B. pseudomallei, the diagnostic process can be tricky. Doctors will obtain a small sample of the patient’s blood, pus, urine, or other liquid and put it on agar or another growing medium. Bacterial growth indicates infection, but know that this culturing method isn’t always accurate. Your doctor may also send the sample straight to a lab to search for signs of pseudomonas.

In some cases, experts will test the soil and water of a region they suspect of contamination. The results allow them to determine the best course of treatment.

How Is a Burkholderia Pseudomallei Infection Treated?

Health care professionals will analyze the patient’s condition to determine the best course of treatment. They will also test the blood or urine sample to select the appropriate medications.

However, it’s important to note that pseudomonas infections are difficult to treat as this bacterium is resistant to many traditional medications. And even if a medication is initially effective, resistance may develop in the middle of the treatment regimen. Thus, doctors need to be vigilant with their approach and make any necessary adjustments quickly.

Below, we examine a common approach to melioidosis cases.

Intravenous Therapy Treatment

The first stage usually consists of 10-14 days of intravenous therapy. Doctors may administer ceftazidime every 6-8 hours or meropenem every 8 hours.

Oral Antibiotics

Once a patient completes IV therapy, they will need to take oral antibiotics. Doctors may prescribe you to take trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole or doxycycline every 12 hours.

Penicillin Allergies

If you are allergic to penicillin, the above treatment courses may not be safe. Notify your doctor if you have a penicillin allergy so that they prescribe an appropriate alternative.

Reducing the Possibility of Relapse

Medical advancements mean that melioidosis infection relapse isn’t as common as it once was.

However, if patients want to reduce their chance of relapse, they need to commit to their full treatment regimen. The daily IVs and pills are well-worth reducing your risk of recurrence.

What to Do if You Suspect You Have an Infection From B. Pseudomallei

If you suspect you or others have B. pseudomallei infections, you should call your health care provider immediately. Inform them of your potential contact with the bacteria and comply with their next steps. They will work to get a diagnosis, start you on the right treatment plan, and notify the appropriate authorities.

In some cases, the CDC may get involved to notify others of potential exposure and reduce further infections. Immediate intervention is especially important if bioterrorism is involved.

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