Dozens contract rare disease in Australia

A potentially fatal bacterial disease is affecting people in Australia's Northern Territory. Photo / Thinkstock
A potentially fatal bacterial disease is affecting people in Australia's Northern Territory. Photo / Thinkstock

A record 97 people have contracted a potentially fatal bacterial disease in the Northern Territory this wet season, health authorities say.

Acting director of the Centre for Disease Control in the Territory, Steven Skov said there had been 97 cases of melioidosis locally this wet season, resulting in nine deaths.

Dr Skov said the figure was a record number of cases, although not a record number of deaths, which has dropped in recent years due to better treatments and awareness of the disease.

The soil-borne disease is thought to lie dormant in the ground for most of the year, but comes to the surface when there is heavy rain during the wet season.

Those at risk of catching melioidosis include gardeners who come into close contact with soil and people with compromised immune systems.

During the past three years there has been a spike in the number of cases, which researchers had put down to strong wet seasons.

But Dr Skov said high numbers of melioidosis cases had continued this wet season despite it not being an unusually heavy rainy period.

"We can't say for a certainty just why we have had this increase over the past three years," he said.

"When there is heavy rainfall combined with high winds the bacteria can get aerosolised and then people with risk factors might breathe it in and get sick from it.

"But that is speculation and we can't test that in any sort of scientific way," he said.

In March an Aboriginal elder accused the federal government of having blood on its hands, after research showed a possible link between the intervention in Aboriginal communities and melioidosis deaths among indigenous people.

-AAP

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