What is Burkholderia Pseudomallei?

Burkholderia pseudomallei is a widespread bacterium in tropical regions of Asia, Australia, and the Middle East. People who come into direct contact with the bacteria are at risk of developing a severe acute infection called melioidosis. Depending on the amount of bacteria present in an infection and the host's general health, Burkholderia pseudomallei can lead to severe skin reactions, breathing difficulties, and fever. Melioidosis is often fatal, even with immediate treatment at an emergency room.

A Burkholderia pseudomallei infection can occur when a person drinks contaminated water or gets tainted soil in his or her mouth or an open wound. In a region densely populated with bacteria, spores can become airborne with the wind and inhaled by hosts. Melioidosis may not occur immediately after exposure to Burkholderia pseudomallei. In many cases, the bacteria do not cause health changes or immune system reactions for days or even weeks after initially entering the body. When symptoms do arise, they tend to come on quickly and severely.

Specific symptoms depend on the nature of an infection. When bacteria enter a cut or wound, they can cause large, swollen, painful ulcers. Inhaled bacteria burrow into the lungs, where they can cause a wet cough, congestion, and shortness of breath. Lesions in the lining of the lungs and pneumonia are probable within a few days. Gastrointestinal problems, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration are common when bacteria are swallowed. In time, Burkholderia pseudomallei can migrate into the bloodstream and cause life-threatening complications in major organs, including the heart and liver.

A doctor can diagnose melioidosis by evaluating physical symptoms and ordering extensive blood tests. Laboratory analysis of a contaminated blood sample typically reveals a higher than average white blood cell count and signs of anemia. Pathologists can perform a series of tests to determine if the contaminant is indeed Burkholderia pseudomallei or another type of pathogen. If breathing complications are present, a doctor usually conducts chest x-rays and computerized tomography scans to determine the extent of physical damage.

Emergency treatment procedures may involve placing a patient on a mechanical ventilator and administering intravenous fluids and medicines. Once body systems are stabilized, a doctor can provide medication to thicken the blood and help regulate kidney and liver functioning. A patient who survives the acute phase of the infection is typically prescribed oral antibiotics to be taken for several weeks or months. Since the immune system is severely impacted by melioidosis, a patient may need to stay indoors during the recovery phase to reduce the chances of acquiring other infections.


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