The Department of Disease Control (DDC) has recently issued a grave warning to farmers across the country. A fresh outbreak of the bacterial infectious disease, melioidosis – often referred to as Whitmore’s disease – has caused major distress in regions such as Buri Ram, Nakhon Ratchasima and Songkhla, claiming the lives of almost a dozen farmers. This disease, resulting from exposure to the fungus Burkholderia pseudomallei or B. pseudomallei, is normally found in spots with contaminated soil and water, rice paddies and agricultural farms.
Currently, melioidosis is in its spring outbreak, a seasonal peak that is the cause of escalating concern among healthcare offices. The seasoned physician, Dr. Taweechai Wisanuyothin, who heads DDC’s Office 9, shared some alarming numbers last Saturday. As per his information, this year alone 582 instances of melioidosis have been identified in the four lower northeastern provinces – Buri Ram with 336, Nakhon Ratchasima with 93, Surin with 106 and in Chaiyaphum, a total of 47 cases. Tragically, six people have lost their lives to the disease, a lion’s share of that number, coming from Buri Ram and Nakhon Ratchasima.
An interesting yet distressing fact that Dr. Taweechai brought to our attention is the professional background of those infected. A staggering 53.78% of the infected were farmers, while 25.88% were employees. Around 6.87% were children, and the majority were elderly, with most patients being over 65 years old and others in the age range of 55-64 and 45-54.
Adding to the narrative, Dr. Decha Sae-Lee, head of Thepha Hospital in Songkhla, stated that out of the seven melioidosis cases identified in Thepha district, five people succumbed to the disease since this April. This makes the district the most affected in terms of mortality in the lower southern region provinces. Interestingly enough, four out of those five were diabetic, an unsettling correlation. He further added that recent years have recorded at least two instances of melioidosis annually, but this is the first time in a long while that fatalities are involved.
As per information from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), melioidosis can infect both humans and animals, usually through direct contact with a contaminated source. Humans can contract the disease by interacting with diseased soil and water, or even eating contaminated foods, and in certain conditions, merely inhaling in the presence of the infective fungus can lead to disease contraction.
The disease shows symptoms ranging from high fevers to abscesses to respiratory illnesses between 1 and 21 days after exposure, based on the infected person’s antibodies’ concentration. Dr. Taweechai advises that to prevent infection, especially for those who frequently interact with soil such as farmers, avoid wading in the water or mud. Protecting feet with boots, sterilising drinking water thoroughly are also top preventive measures. He also suggested prompt medical attention in case of sudden and swift onset of symptoms, and to immediately call the CDC hotline at 1422 for further information.