Melioidosis: Experts predict an increase in cases of tropical disease

Melioidosis is an infectious disease largely unknown in Europe. However, it kills about half of those who contract it. Graz experts predict an increase in the disease, which occurs mainly in tropical and subtropical regions of Southeast Asia, Australia and Africa and is caused by a bacterium. Med-Uni Graz announced Thursday that they are developing tests to detect antibodies for diagnostics and for diffusion into the environment.

spread with climate change

The bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei is the causative agent of the dangerous infectious disease. The bacterium’s natural habitat is soil and surface waters in tropical and subtropical regions, which is likely to spread with climate change. The pathogen, which is mainly associated with dirty water and soil, is absorbed through skin lesions, but also by inhalation or contaminated drinking water. “We become infected through contact with the contaminated environment, human-to-human transmission is irrelevant,” said Ivo Steinmetz, head of the Diagnostics & Research Institute for Hygiene, Microbiology and Environmental Medicine, in an interview with the APA.

Options for prophylaxis have so far been limited: in endemic areas, contact with groundwater or surface water should be avoided, which is easier said than done: calculation models say that 165,000 people worldwide contract the melioidosis every year, and a good half of them die from it. According to experts from Med-Uni Graz, the number of deaths is of the same order of magnitude as that of measles. In diagnosis, however, the infection can easily be overlooked.


According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the infection is treatable if detected early and treated properly. The clinical picture varies from fever and cough, sometimes even severe pneumonia, which develops over time. If the bacteria spread through the blood throughout the body, there is a risk of life-threatening blood poisoning. The availability of laboratory microbiological diagnostics is therefore essential for detecting infections, as Steinmetz pointed out. In many parts of the world, however, adequate laboratory diagnostics cannot be performed due to lack of resources.

The Graz team led by Ivo Steinmetz is developing highly specific point-of-care multiplex tests in which antibodies against various Burkholderia pseudomallei proteins can be detected with a single test. “The great advantage of these tests is that no laboratory equipment is required and these tests can therefore be used even in very remote regions of the world,” says Steinmetz. The first studies with these tests are currently planned in Vietnam and Nigeria.


In addition, the Graz experts are looking to use molecular methods to more accurately record the distribution of Burkholderia pseudomallei in the environment. With the sensitive detection method, the Graz scientists, in collaboration with Vietnamese partners, have already been able to identify the environmental source of a melioidosis outbreak in North Vietnam, as described by Steinmetz.

Incidentally, patients with chronic kidney and lung disease and type 2 diabetes are particularly often affected by melioidosis in the affected regions. Diabetes leads to an approximately twelve-fold increased risk of getting the infection. Since all forecasts predict a particular increase in type 2 diabetes in Asia and Africa, a significant increase in melioidosis cases in the coming decades must be assumed, according to Med-Uni Graz.

About the author


Leave a Comment