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4 November 2022

Causative agent

Melioidosis is a disease caused by the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei. It can affect both humans and animals such as sheep, swine, cats, dogs, etc. This bacterium is widespread in soils and muddy water, particularly common in moist clay soils. It is endemic in Southeast Asia (e.g. Singapore and Thailand) and northern Australia.

Clinical features

Melioidosis may present with localised infection (such as cutaneous abscess), pneumonia, meningoencephalitis, sepsis, or chronic suppurative infection. Depending on the site of infection, common symptoms include fever, headache, localised pain or swelling, ulceration, chest pain, cough, haemoptysis, and swelling of regional lymph nodes.

Mode of transmission

Humans can become infected through contact with contaminated soil and surface waters (especially through skin abrasions/wounds); inhalation of contaminated dust/water droplets; and ingestion of contaminated water. Person-to-person transmission is rare but may occur through contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person.

High risk groups

Persons with underlying diseases including diabetes, lung disease, liver disease, renal disease, cancer, or immunosuppression have higher risks for contracting the disease. Agricultural, laboratory and health-care workers are also vulnerable to occupational exposure.

Incubation period

The incubation period varies, usually from 2 to 4 weeks, but can range from 1 day to few years.


Melioidosis can be treated with antibiotics. Long-term treatment may be necessary for some chronic infection cases. Mortality rate ranges from around 40-75%.


No vaccine is available for melioidosis. To prevent melioidosis, people should take the following measures:

  • Avoid contact with contaminated soil.
  • Wear appropriate protective clothing or footwear when participating in activities with possible contact with soil or water, e.g. use gloves and wear boots.
  • Wash or shower after exposure to contaminated water or soil. Let tap water run for one minute at the start of the day before using it for brushing teeth, washing face or bath.
  • Always clean any wounds as soon as possible and cover any cuts or grazes with waterproof dressings.
  • Wash hands with liquid soap and water after handling with soils or gardening.
  • Observe food hygiene and avoid drinking unboiled or untreated water.
  • Travellers can contract the disease through outdoor water sports. Risk of infection can be minimised by avoiding exposure to water sources (such as rivers, ponds or lakes) that might be contaminated.

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