Melioidosis is a potentially life-threatening disease caused by the soil-dwelling bacterium, Burkholderia pseudomallei.

Melioidosis is a common cause of serious pneumonia and blood poisoning in the Northern Territory (NT), Australia. The bacteria live below the soil's surface during the dry season, but after heavy rainfall can move to surface water and mud. They can then become airborne.

Recent wet seasons have seen a dramatic increase in cases of melioidosis. As Darwin’s urban areas spread and irrigation schemes and agriculture encroach into the desert, there is an even greater risk of spread of melioidosis.

Our research focus:
  • To reduce the number of deaths from melioidosis, through early diagnosis.
Our research impact:
  • Helped to halve the death rate of melioidosis in the NT through a 23+-year prospective study—The Darwin Prospective Melioidosis Study (DPMS). With faster diagnosis and treatment, mortality rates fell from over 30% to under 15%
  • Documented and described the very diverse range of melioidosis symptoms through the analysis of over 800 cases
  • Developed the current treatment guidelines for melioidosis, which are now used globally
  • Genetic profiling of Australian B. pseudomallei bacteria suggests that the bacterium evolved in Australia and then spread to Southeast Asia and further afield
  • Discovered that introduced grasses in the NT harbour particularly high numbers of melioidosis bacteria. This discovery may well impact current agricultural development in Northern Australia where non-native grasses are widely planted
  • Found that melioidosis bacteria may be carried and spread by birds
  • Discovered that melioidosis bacteria are common in un-chlorinated bore water in the NT.
Key staff:
  1. Majoni, S.W., Hughes, J.T., Heron, B., Currie, B.J. (2017) Trimethoprim+sulfamethoxazole reduces rates of melioidosis in high risk haemodialysis patients. Kidney International Reports. (accepted 12 Sept 2017).
  2. Wiersinga, W. J., Currie, B. J., & Peacock, S. J. (2012). Medical progress: Melioidosis. New England Journal of Medicine, 367(11), 1035-1044.
  3. Sarovich, D. S., Price, E. P., von Schulze, A. T., Cook, J. M., Mayo, M., Watson, L. M., et al. (2012). Characterization of ceftazidime resistance mechanisms in clinical isolates of burkholderia pseudomallei from Australia. PLoS ONE, 7(2).
  4. Parameswaran, U., Baird, R. W., Ward, L. M., & Currie, B. J. (2012). Melioidosis at royal darwin hospital in the big 2009-2010 wet season: Comparison with the preceding 20 years. Medical Journal of Australia, 196(5), 345-348.
  5. Meumann, E. M., Cheng, A. C., Ward, L., & Currie, B. J. (2012). Clinical features and epidemiology of melioidosis pneumonia: Results from a 21-year study and review of the literature. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 54(3), 362-369.
  6. Kaestli, M., Schmid, M., Mayo, M., Rothballer, M., Harrington, G., Richardson, L., et al. (2012). Out of the ground: Aerial and exotic habitats of the melioidosis bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei in grasses in Australia. Environmental Microbiology, 14(8), 2058-2070.
  7. Kaestli, M., Richardson, L. J., Colman, R. E., Tuanyok, A., Price, E. P., Bowers, J. R., et al. (2012). Comparison of TaqMan PCR assays for detection of the melioidosis agent Burkholderia pseudomallei in clinical specimens. Journal of Clinical Microbiology, 50(6), 2059-2062.
  8. Mayo, M., Kaestli, M., Harrington, G., Cheng, A. C., Ward, L., Karp, D., et al. (2011). Burkholderia pseudomallei in unchlorinated domestic bore water, tropical northern Australia. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 17(7), 1283-1285.
  9. Mattar, S., Hampton, V., Kaestli, M., Mayo, M., Choy, J. L., Harrington, G., et al. (2011). Melioidosis in birds and burkholderia pseudomallei dispersal, Australia. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 17(7), 1310-1312.
  10. Currie, B. J., Ward, L., & Cheng, A. C. (2010). The epidemiology and clinical spectrum of melioidosis: 540 cases from the 20 year darwin prospective study. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 4(11).
  11. Currie, B. J., Haslem, A., Pearson, T., Hornstra, H., Leadem, B., Mayo, M., et al. (2009). Identification of melioidosis outbreak by multilocus variable number tandem repeat analysis. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 15(2), 169-174.
Click here to view more melioidosis publications in PubMed.
  1. Melioidosis study improves patient outcomes

    Melioidosis study improves patient outcomes


    Melioidosis study improves patient outcomes Our research continued to put Menzies at the centre of better melioidosis patient outcomes through improved diagnosis and treatment. In August 2016, the Menzies melioidosis team contributed to 17 abstracts at...

  2. Melioidosis: More cases of potentially fatal bacteria from NT dirt emerge

    Melioidosis: More cases of potentially fatal bacteria from NT dirt emerge


    More people are being infected by a potentially fatal bacterium in the Northern Territory, and health experts suspect building works could have something to do with the rise in cases.

  3. Menzies helps track the travels of the deadly melioidosis bacteria

    Menzies helps track the travels of the deadly melioidosis bacteria


    An international team of experts has confirmed the Australian origins of the bacterium (Burkholderia pseudomallei) which causes the potentially fatal infectious disease melioidosis and tracked its global dissemination.

  4. Melioidosis: The Most Neglected Tropical Disease

    Melioidosis: The Most Neglected Tropical Disease


    Three sessions at the American Society for Microbiology 2017 Biothreats conference covered specific emerging diseases. Two of these, Zika and Ebola, have received a lot of media coverage (including on this blog), but the third disease, melioidosis, isnít frequently found in newspaper headlines.

  5. Jessica Webb 2016: Barbara Hale Fellowship Winner

    Jessica Webb 2016: Barbara Hale Fellowship Winner


    Congratulations are extended to Jessica Webb for her 2016 Australian Federation of Graduate Women (AFGW) Barbara Hale Fellowship award.

  6. Menzies melioidosis project recognised among Australia's best

    Menzies melioidosis project recognised among Australia's best


    A Menzies project has been recognised amongst the nationís premier research projects by Australiaís peak body for health and medical research.

  7. ABC Catalyst: Melioidosis feature

    ABC Catalyst: Melioidosis feature


    Life in northern Australia is full of spectacular surprises and natural hazards, some more obvious than others.

  8. The melioidosis files

    The melioidosis files


    A potentially fatal bacterial disease, lurking in soil.