Rare infection spike in Townsville

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A woman has died and several others are ill due to a melioidosis infection, following the disastrous Townsville floods

The Townsville Bulletin reports that Dr Julie Mudd, Townsville Hospital public health physician, confirmed the death of a woman in her late 50s.

The woman had already been ill when she became infected with the bacteria, which is found in soil.

Two more cases were confirmed on Wednesday, which means 10 cases altogether since the flooding began.

The Bulletin contrasted this figure with the 11 cases reported in Townsville throughout 2018.

“Given the scale of the flooding we are expecting to see increasing numbers of a range of infections, not just melioidosis, and we are proactively testing for these illnesses,” Dr Mudd said.

Townsville residents were advised to wear gloves and shoes while cleaning up after the disaster, and those who are already unwell, including with chronic conditions, or older should delegate cleaning up to others.

Dr Gemma Robertson from the Centre for Clinical Research at the University of Queensland said that melioidosis is an infection caused by a soil-borne organism found in various regions of Northern Australia.

“Cases of the infection are linked to increased rainfall, and with a catastrophic weather event like the recent floods, the number of cases being seen in Townsville would not be unexpected,” she said.

“Manifestations can range from mild skin and soft tissue infections, to life-threatening bloodstream infections.

“People with pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, are at higher risk for melioidosis and should be vigilant for signs of the infection, such as fever, cough, headache, and skin lesions.

“Eradication of the infection will often require at least three months of antibiotic therapy.”

Queensland Health also issued advice about the condition, pointing out that the tropical disease is rare, and that most cases are in elderly and sick patients who may have decreased immunity.

“Infection may occur when wounds have direct contact with contaminated soil or surface water,” it says. “Transmission may also occur via inhalation of contaminated water.”

Symptoms usually develop within three weeks of exposure.

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