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Farmers Beware: The Silent Killer in Your Fields – The Deadly Bacteria You’ve Never Heard Of!

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Consider this a rallying call to all farmers in Buri Ram, Nakhon Ratchasima, and Songkhla: there’s an unwelcome guest making rounds amidst your soil and water crop reservoirs, causing grave implications. This uninvited entity, Melioidosis, otherwise known as Whitmore’s disease, has been claiming lives in these regions. This infamous bacterial infection, courtesy of a fungus called Burkholderia pseudomallei, thrives in damp environments— contaminated soil, watercourses, rice paddies, and cropping farms.

The annual cycle of melioidosis has hit its zenith with the arrival of spring, raising the alarm bells across health care offices. Farmers’ hearts sink and their faces drop at the mention of this rural menace. Allow me to shed light on the escalating situation. The baton of delivering this crucial message has been passed on to Dr Taweechai Wisanuyothin, esteemed chief of the DDC Office 9.

Dr Taweechai didn’t mince his words as he sounded the klaxon on Saturday, revealing the unsettling statistics. No less than 582 cases of this dreadful disease have been unleashed on the inhabitants this year, making incursions into the lower northeastern provinces governed by the DDC Office 9. It’s Buri Ram bearing the brunt with 336 cases followed by Nakhon Ratchasima (93), Surin (106), and Chaiyaphum (47), respectively. Making matters worse, the reaper paid a call to 4 from Buri Ram and two in Nakhon Ratchasima, as they succumbed to the disease.

A precise breakdown of the demographic at risk discloses that an alarming 53.78% are the toilers of the soil: our farmers. Employees make up 25.88% of those infected while the remaining 6.87% fall into the children category. The disease makes no distinction of age as those 65 years old, bracket 55–64, and 45–54 years old bracket have all fallen victim to this affliction.

The grim tidings didn’t stop there as Dr Decha Sae-Lee, esteemed director of Thepha Hospital in Songkhla, added further anecdotes. Of the seven confirmed melioidosis cases in Thepha district, five couldn’t outlive this illness, a record fatalities tally. Adding a further layer of tragedy, four of the victims were already suffering from diabetes. “It’s been a while since locals have met such fate against melioidosis”, he lamented, noting how the disease had more or less become a regular, albeit unwelcome, visitor.

Let’s edge a step closer to understanding this foe. As per the esteemed Centre for Disease Control (CDC), melioidosis casts a wide net and is infectious to both humans and animals, passed on through inadvertent contact with a contaminated source.

How does one cross paths with this disease? Dr Taweechai elaborates: the disease can infiltrate our bodies via physical contact with contaminated soil and water, ingesting contaminated water and food, and even inhalation. You’ll know if you’ve been ‘touched’ by melioidosis as you’ll soon start showing symptoms within 1–21 days of the encounter. Look out for high fevers, abscesses, and respiratory infections.

A few words to the wise: if you want to give melioidosis a miss, follow Dr Taweechai’s hot tips— avoid wading through water or mud, invest in a sturdy pair of boots and plastic shoe protectors, drink water only after it’s been sterilised, and, most importantly, seek immediate treatment if any symptoms crop up. Further guidance is always readily available at the CDC hotline at 1422. So, stay vigilant, stay safe, for the infamous melioidosis is a formidable adversary.

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