Melioidosis: The Disease You’ve Never Heard Of

There has been a lot of news recently about Melioidosis, so what exactly is it? Melioidosis is a disease that is often overlooked but can be deadly, having a mortality rate of 40-75% if not treated properly. In this article, we will discuss the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for Melioidosis. We will also talk about how to protect yourself from this disease.

What is Melioidosis?

Melioidosis is a bacterial infection that is caused by the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei. This bacterium is found in soil and water worldwide though often seen in Southeast Asia and Northern Australia. In most cases, people are exposed to it through contact with contaminated soil or water. 

The incubation period usually ranges from 2 to 4 weeks but it can be possible to range from 1 day to a few years.

What are the symptoms of Melioidosis?

The symptoms of Melioidosis can vary from person to person and may be mild or severe. Some people may just have a fever and a cough. Others may have more serious symptoms such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, and diarrhea. It may present as a localised skin infection, pneumonia or an infection in the blood. 

The most common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Weight lossFatigue

If you develop any of these symptoms, it's important to see a doctor.

How is Melioidosis treated?

The treatment depends on the severity of the infection, but it typically involves antibiotics and hospitalization. Long-term treatment may be necessary for some chronic infection cases. Some people may require surgery to clear a localised infection.

How can you prevent Melioidosis?

No vaccine is currently available to protect against Melioidosis. However, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself.

  • Avoid contact with contaminated soil and muddy water
  • Wash your hands thoroughly or shower after exposure to contaminated water or soil
  • Wash hands with liquid soap and water after handling soil or gardeningIf you have a cut or scratch, clean it well with soap and water and cover any cuts or grazes with waterproof dressings
  • Wear appropriate protective clothing or footwear when participating in activities with possible contact with soil or water, e.g. use gloves and wear boots
  • Observe food hygiene and avoid drinking raw water

If you are concerned about Melioidosis and want to speak to a healthcare professional, contact us at 2537 8500 or book an appointment with a doctor.


Centre for Health Protection, Department of Health, Hong Kong