The Department of Disease Control (DDC) has once again emerged into the limelight, this time issuing an urgent advisory to farmers. A renewed outbreak of the dangerous bacterial infectious disease known as Melioidosis, or Whitmore’s disease, has gravely claimed the lives of approximately 10 farmers in the provinces of Buri Ram, Nakhon Ratchasima, and Songkhla.
Being comparable to an unseen enemy in a spy thriller, Melioidosis is a cunning and deceptive illness, caused by the stealthy Burkholderia pseudomallei, or B. pseudomallei fungus. This elusive perpetrator has often been exposed hiding in contaminated soil, water, rice paddles, and cropping farms.
Despite its usual stealth, Melioidosis has shown to have an unexpected Achilles heel: it seems to be heavily active during the springtime. This worrying seasonal pattern has raised much worry and has stirred up anxiety within medical authorities and communities alike.
At the helm of this battle is Dr Taweechai Wisanuyothin, the esteemed chief of the DDC Office 9. He painted a rather grim picture on Saturday, disclosing that a staggering 582 incidents of Melioidosis have been identified this year in the four lower northeastern provinces supervised by his office. The cases were broken down as such: Buri Ram (336 cases), Nakhon Ratchasima (93), Surin (106), and Chaiyaphum (47). A sobering statistic reveals that six individuals — four from Buri Ram and two from Nakhon Ratchasima — unfortunately passed away due to this merciless disease.
In an intriguing admissible breakdown, Dr Wisanuyothin conveyed that of all people infected, 53.78% were farmers, 25.88% were gainfully employed, and a measly 6.87% were children. The disease seems to showcase a proclivity for the elderly, with the majority of its victims being at least 65 years old. Other age cohorts affected were 55–64 and 45–54 years old people.
Dr Decha Sae-Lee, the distinguished director of Thepha Hospital in Songkhla, offered a bleak update from his province. Since April, five out of seven detected cases in Thepha district succumbed to this fatal disease, marking it as the highest mortality rate among the lower southern region provinces. Out of these victims, four were battling diabetes before they were diagnosed with Melioidosis.
Reminiscent of an awful horror story, this year witnessed fatal cases of Melioidosis for the first time in a long stretch. Dr Sae-Lee noted that the disease would typically rear its ugly head twice a year without causing any fatalities in the past, marking a worrying change in trends.
According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), Melioidosis proves to be a dangerous enemy that does not discriminate between humans and animals — both can fall victim to this ruthless disease through direct contact with a contaminated source.
Dr Wisanuyothin explained that humans could be infected in several ways, such as indirect contact with tainted soil and water, accidental ingestion or even by inhalation. The symptoms are quite varied, and could appear anywhere from 1–21 days post-infection. Depending on the individual’s antibody levels, patients can experience high fevers, abscesses, and respiratory infections.
In the midst of this rapidly evolving situation, Dr Wisanuyothin implored people, especially farmers, to exercise utmost caution. Recommendations included shunning water or mud, donning protective footwear like boots or plastic shoe protectors, and ensuring drinkable water has been fully sterilized. Emphasizing the importance of early detection, he invited those experiencing sudden symptoms to seek immediate treatment and use the CDC hotline at 1422 for assistance.