Melioidosis Infection Lawyer

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Melioidosis, also called Whitmore’s Disease, is a rare infectious disease caused by the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei. It is endemic to tropical or subtropical areas in Southeast Asia as well as Northern Australia and parts of South America.

What is Melioidosis?

Melioidosis is caused by direct contact with contaminated water or contaminated soil. Much like the related Burkholderia Cepacia, pseudomallei bacteria thrive in these conditions and can enter the body through open skin wounds. The disease can be life-threatening if it is not treated immediately.

Melioidosis was first described in 1912 in present-day Myanmar in Southeast Asia. It was cataloged by pathologist Major Alfred Whitmore, who named it Whitmore’s disease. Since then, treatment for melioidosis has evolved significantly and it can be treated with antibiotics in many cases if caught early.

It is a rare infectious disease in the U.S., but any signs and symptoms of melioidosis (especially after traveling from areas where it is endemic) should be taken extremely seriously. Moreover, the CDC started investigating a recent outbreak of Melioidosis infections in the US in mid-2021, noting that four people have come down with serious infections, two of which have died.

Is Melioidosis Contagious?

Person-to-person transmission of melioidosis is very rare. It has been suggested that the spread of the disease could be affected by human carriers traveling, as cases have appeared in areas without evidence that patients have been in direct contact with contaminated soil or contaminated water.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that cases of person-to-person transmission have been documented, and it is classified among other infectious diseases. It also notes that the disease affects humans and animals, and there may have been cases of melioidosis where the transport of livestock or even tropical fish could have caused the bacteria to move from one region to another.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to avoid contact with others if you’re experiencing symptoms to prevent infection.

How Do You Contract a Melioidosis Infection?

Melioidosis infections are caused by contact with a contaminated source of any kind can allow Burkholderia pseudomallei to travel through particles in the air or a water source. In the case of water, this could mean:

  • Through drinking contaminated water
  • Through being in water carrying the bacteria with an open wound
  • (Rarely) through contact with humans and animals carrying the bacteria

How Serious is a Melioidosis Infection?

Melioidosis is a serious illness. The mortality rate for acute cases was cut to 37% by the introduction of ceftazidime in the 1980s but was formerly double this.

Without a swift diagnosis and proper treatment, an infection can easily prove fatal – even in cases where signs and symptoms are identified early on, an infection can cause severe health problems.

Infection can also be complicated by increased risk factors such as diabetes. Existing health conditions like diabetes can make the bacteria have a far more severe effect and is also considered a major risk factor in the disease taking hold: over 50% of cases of infection occur in diabetes patients. This makes diagnosis incredibly important for patients with health conditions so that swift melioidosis treatment can be performed.

What are the Symptoms of Melioidosis?

Symptoms of melioidosis can include:

  • Chest pain
  • Joint pain
  • Skin lesions
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle aches

If you’ve been in an area where you could be at a higher risk of infection recently, any of these signs and symptoms should be a cause to seek diagnosis and treatment quickly. The disease can spread throughout the body quickly and if you notice unusual skin lesions or abscess formation, you should seek treatment for an infection immediately.

Chest pain can be an early indicator of lung infection, which is one of the common symptoms of a severe infection. These symptoms can be treated with antibiotics but as the bacteria is uncommon in the U.S., healthcare workers need the widest time window possible to identify signs and symptoms and the bacteria causing them.

Left untreated, even minor symptoms such as joint pain or a mild abscess could escalate to fatal effects such as septic shock. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that anyone experiencing discomfort after traveling to a region where melioidosis is endemic in contaminated soil (such as Northern Australia or Southeast Asia) seek treatment immediately. This is especially important if you experience higher risk factors like diabetes.

How is Melioidosis Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of melioidosis is performed by examining bacterial cultures within the body. Burkholderia pseudomallei never appear organically in the human body; therefore, any indicator of its presence indicates signs that the disease melioidosis is also present.

Again, as infection by these bacteria is extremely uncommon in the U.S., you must let health professionals know of any recent travel abroad. It’s also important to consider whether you’ve been in contact with any water sources that may have been contaminated locally, as it’s unlikely but possible that the disease could have infected a local water source.

It should be noted that symptoms can begin to show years after the initial infection. As the illness can be difficult to catch and most patients can’t provide a full record of their travel plans over the past few years, it’s incredibly important to avoid entering potentially contaminated water sources with open wounds in areas where melioidosis is endemic. This can help prevent difficulties identifying the problem if the bacteria become active years later.

Needless to say, the possibility that melioidosis can move across regions in the bodies of tropical aquarium fish is another vital reason to never flush dead aquarium fish down the toilet.

How Is Melioidosis Treated?

Melioidosis is typically addressed with antibiotics. In severe cases, this is performed in a hospital and the antibiotics are administered intravenously. This intensive phase of care is to kill existing bacteria within the body and disrupt its ability to spread to other locations where it may cause severe damage (such as the lungs).

Surgery may be performed on abscesses where necessary. This can include large internal abscesses on areas like the liver and the prostate. Draining these abscesses can prevent further inflammation and toxic effects from their fluids.

Following this phase, a course of antibiotics is usually prescribed to stop the infection from flaring up again. With early identification of symptoms and timely action by health professionals, a full recovery is possible.

However, it’s essential to catch the infection early, as melioidosis can worsen from physical discomfort to potentially fatal effects like septic shock quickly if it’s not identified and addressed directly.

Melioidosis is a serious illness, which causes many patients to wonder: can melioidosis be cured? The answer is yes, but often only if symptoms are identified at an early stage. The impact on a patient’s health can depend on factors such as other health risks, so symptoms should be taken seriously as soon as they appear.

What to Do if You Suspect You Have Melioidosis

If you’ve traveled to a country where melioidosis is endemic recently, any symptoms like joint aches or muscle pain should be seen by a medical professional immediately. Remember to tell medical staff about any possible exposure you’ve had recently to environments where Burkholderia pseudomallei may have been present.

More severe signs that you may have melioidosis should be taken to a hospital immediately. Never wait for unusual signs to pass.



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