Tropical diseases – Experts expect an increase in cases of melioidosis

Melioidosis is an infectious disease that is largely unknown in Europe. However, it kills about half of those who get it. Experts from Graz expect an increase in the disease, which occurs mainly in tropical and subtropical regions of Southeast Asia, Australia and Africa and is caused by bacteria. Med-Uni Graz has announced that it is developing tests to detect antibodies for diagnosis and spread in the environment.

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

Soil and surface water should be avoided

Prophylaxis has so far been limited – in endemic areas, contact with groundwater or surface water should be avoided, which is easier said than done: model calculations say 165,000 people worldwide develop melioidosis each year and a good half die from of that. According to experts from Med-Uni Graz, the number of deaths is in the same order as for measles. However, the infection can be easily overlooked during diagnosis.

Early detection is important

According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an infection is treatable if detected early and treated correctly. The clinical picture ranges from fever and cough, sometimes to 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 microbiological laboratory diagnostics is therefore essential for the detection of infections, as Steinmetz emphasized. However, in many parts of the world, adequate laboratory diagnostics is not possible due to lack of resources.

The Graz team, led by Ivo Steinmetz, is developing highly specific multiplex tests at the site of care, in which antibodies against various Burkholderia pseudomallei proteins can be detected in just one test. “The big advantage of these tests is that no laboratory equipment is needed, so they can be used in very remote areas of the world,” says Steinmetz. The first studies with these tests are currently planned in Vietnam and Nigeria.

In addition, experts from Graz are using molecular methods to more accurately record the distribution of Burkholderia pseudomallei in the environment. Using a sensitive detection method, researchers from Graz, in collaboration with Vietnamese partners, have already been able to identify the environmental source of the melioidosis outbreak in northern 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 areas. Diabetes leads to an approximately 12-fold increased risk of infection. Given that all predictions predict a special increase in type 2 diabetes in Asia and Africa, a significant increase in cases of melioidosis should be expected in the coming decades, according to Med-Uni Graz. (apa)

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