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Melioidosis Disease Warning After Heavy Desert Rain

The Northern Territory's Health Department Experts have warned about the killer tropical disease melioidosis after the recent flooding in central Australia.//

There have been 10 cases of the disease in the heavy monsoonal rain regions of Central Australia during the past decade, including one death.

While the desert clean-up continues after last week's torrential downpours, locals and visitors have been warned to take extra care when coming into contact with muddy soil.

The experts said that the dirt could contain the potentially life-threatening disease melioidosis, caused by bacteria found in surface water and mud after heavy rain. It can also become airborne during heavy showers. Symptoms include fever, shortness of breathe, boils and abdominal pain.

The department's Dr Rosalie Schultz said that the bacterium causing the disease usually enters the body through small cuts in the skin. "If it's a severe infection, it can develop within two days but the usual incubation period is about three weeks," she said.

Inhalation of dust or droplets, or swallowing contaminated water can also lead to infection. It does not usually spread from human to human.

People most at risk to the disease are those who are unwell already and those with conditions such as diabetes, heavy alcohol consumption, kidney disease, lung disease, cancer and those on steroid therapy.

Dr Schultz says people should take precautions and seek medical help if they develop pneumonia-like symptoms. "If you're in wet soil or in stagnant water, wear waterproof shoes or boots," she said.

"Open footwear is not good enough because the soles of your feet might be covered, but the infection can still get in through the tops of your feet. "Likewise, if you're handling soil you should wear gloves" – She added.
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