Melioidosis also known as Whitemore’s disease, is a deadly infection that affects both humans and animals. The infection is triggered by the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei, transmitted through contaminated water and soil. It is a major public health problem in Southeast Asia, northern parts of Australia and other tropical regions. This deadly infection has the potential to spread to regions where it’s not found and the pathogen B.pseudomallei which is the cause of melioidosis has been identified as a possible biological weapon. Also Read: Infectious Diseases: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Signs And Symptoms

The time between exposure to the infectious agent and the occurrence of the symptoms is not very clear. It may range from one day to several years. Generally, symptoms appear two to four days after exposure. There are different types of melioidosis infection, each type has its own range of symptoms.

Localized Infection:

The effects of the symptoms can be localized to infection on the skin (cellulitis) characterised by:

  • Pain or swelling
  • Fever
  • Ulcer
  • Abscess

Pulmonary Infection:

Melioidosis infection generally begins from the lung, where it leads to the cavity of pus formation in the lungs. The symptoms of pulmonary infection can be mild from bronchitis to severe pneumonia.

  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Poor Appetite

Bloodstream Infection:

If the melioidosis infection spreads into the bloodstream the symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Respiratory discomfort
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Joint pain
  • Confusion

Disseminated Infection:

In this type melioidosis usually spread from the skin via the blood and become a more chronic form affecting the heart, brain, liver, kidneys, joints and eyes. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Stomach or chest pain
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Headache
  • Seizures

Who Are At Risk Of Infection?

Although healthy adults may be infected with this disease, people who are at high risk include:

  • Diabetic
  • Alcohol overuse
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Lung disease –cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Liver disease
  • Thalassemia
  • Immune compromised –HIV and cancer


Generally, people get infected with melioidosis via direct contact with contaminated soil and waters. Human beings and animals are infected by inhaling contaminated dust or water droplets, drinking spoiled water and direct contact with contaminated soil via skin abrasions. Person to person direct contact of spreading infection is very rare. Also Read: Coronavirus: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment


This deadly infection can affect any organ and can mimic other diseases and if misdiagnosed it can be fatal. The doctors may recommend the patients to do certain blood work such as sputum, pus, urine, synovial fluid, peritoneal fluid or pericardial fluid culture to find out the growth of any bacteria.


The doctor generally prescribes antibiotics as the first stage of treatment for a period of 10 to 14 days via intravenous (IV) line. The second stage of treatment lasts for a period of three to six months where oral antibiotics are prescribed. Relapse of the infection is very rare and occurs mostly in people who had not completed the full course of antibiotics.

How To Prevent Melioidosis

Currently, there are no vaccines available for humans to avert this deadly infection, however, people who live in or are visiting areas where melioidosis is common should take these precautionary measures to prevent infection.

  • A person working in soil or water should wear waterproof boots and gloves.
  • Avoid direct contact with soil and stagnated water if a person has open wounds, diabetes or suffer from chronic kidney disease.
  • Be careful about avoiding exposure by inhalation during extreme weather conditions.
  • Healthcare workers should wear masks, gloves, and gowns.
  • Consume only pasteurized milk and milk products.
  • Get checked for melioidosis if you are about to go for immunosuppressive therapy.