New reports warn that the risk of infection with the deadly melioidosis is on the rise and it has higher rates than previously estimated by experts. The tropical disease is not even on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) radar. It’s so obscure that its true effect is hard to recognize.
Melioidosis, also known as Whitmore’s disease, is a deadly bacterial infection that is more frequently found in certain parts of Asia. It’s caused by the Burkholderia pseudomallei bacteria, and it’s commonly contracted through skin lesions, drinking contaminated water or breathing in the infected dust. That makes it highly likely that the infection could easily spread.
The disease is incredibly difficult to trace and cure. Symptoms include fever, weight loss, aches, coughing, headaches, and several others, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It can actually be triggered a day after the initial infection or live passively in the body for almost a decade. That is also why it’s also commonly known as the ‘Vietnamese time bomb’.
Due to the difficulty of tracing back the initial moment of infection and list of symptoms, melioidosis commonly gets mistaken with other conditions such as pneumonia or tuberculosis. Patients are, thus, often faced with horrible chances and the medical community has few ways of fighting back. This is especially more frequent in poorly developed countries where infection rates are high and awareness is low.
One of the most major problems of the disease is that it’s resistant to numerous antibiotics, including penicilin. According to one of the world’s biggest experts in melioidosis, Dr. Direk Limmathurotsakul, it almost becomes a tossup. If the patients live after treatment, they live, if they don’t, then they die. The unfortunately strong resistance to antibiotics brings the fatality rate of melioidosis to a whopping 70%.
That means that more than more 2 in 3 people might perish from the disease either due to ineffective treatment or misdiagnosis. In 2015 alone, out the 165,000 people infected, it killed 89,000 of them.
According to the researchers, melioidosis kills as many people as measles, which caused around 115,000 deaths in 2014, recorded by WHO reports. That also means it kills more people than more famous diseases such as dengue fever or leptospirosis. And yet, it gains less of a name, there’s less awareness, and much fewer organizations are dedicated to bringing its fatality rate down.
As stated by Dr. Limmathurotsakul, it kills many and it’s doing it silently. Now, the disease is also more spread out than initially believed. Cases have been found in 79 countries. That is 34 more than initially estimated, and it includes parts of Central America, South America, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and, of course, Asia.
Image source: medicine.nevada.edu