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 28+-year prospective study—The Darwin Prospective Melioidosis Study (DPMS). With faster diagnosis and treatment, mortality rates fell from over 30% to around 10%.
  • Documented and described the very diverse range of melioidosis symptoms through the analysis of over 1000 cases
  • Defined the incubation period for melioidosis and the frequency of chronic disease and reactivation
  • 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
  • Described using genomics the first confirmed linkage of B. pseudomallei in storm air samples to an individual case of inhalational melioidosis
  • Tested a number of new “point of care” diagnostics that are now being used in resource-poor settings overseas
  • Used genomics to identify melioidosis transmission routes from environment to both humans and animals
  • With veterinary colleagues described epidemiological and clinical aspects of melioidosis in animals, including in novel species  
  • Taken on responsibility for curating the MLST database of global B. pseudomallei from colleagues around the world.
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). www.kireports.org/#/article/S2468-0249(17)30391-1/fulltext
  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 research traces source to reduce spread

    Melioidosis research traces source to reduce spread

    Date

    Dr Audrey Rachlin focused on the environmental bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei, which causes melioidosis.

  2. Healthy Tomorrow | Christmas edition 2019

    Healthy Tomorrow | Christmas edition 2019

    Date

    In this edition, we are proud to present a snapshot of the announcements, awards and events that have occurred over the past few months.

  3. Tropical disease kills crocodiles in NT

    Tropical disease kills crocodiles in NT

    Date

    A deadly tropical disease that affects humans was responsible for killing two crocodiles near Darwin, flipping previously held beliefs the predators were highly resistant to infection.

  4. Deadly bacteria killed two crocodiles in northern Australia

    Deadly bacteria killed two crocodiles in northern Australia

    Date

    The research, from Menzies School of Health Research was published in the Microbial Genomics journal.

  5. Bactérie tueuse de crocodiles identifiée par les chercheurs

    Bactérie tueuse de crocodiles identifiée par les chercheurs

    Date

    Menée par Menzies, la recherche sur la santé (Menzies), l'étude a porté sur la mort de deux crocodiles d'eau salée éclos dans le parc animalier à l'aide du séquençage à haute résolution du génome entier et de la phylogénétique comparative.

  6. Media Release | Crocodile killing bacteria identified by Top End researchers

    Media Release | Crocodile killing bacteria identified by Top End researchers

    Date

    A ground-breaking study by a north Australian research team which identified a deadly bacterium responsible for killing saltwater crocodiles at a Top End Wildlife Park has recently been published in the journal, Microbial Genomics.

  7. Killer disease strikes crocs

    Killer disease strikes crocs

    Date

    Melioidosis is killing Territory crocodiles, according to a paper written by researchers at the Menzies School of Health Research.

  8. Media Alert | Crocodile killing bacteria identified by Top End researchers

    Media Alert | Crocodile killing bacteria identified by Top End researchers

    Date

    A north Australian research team has identified a deadly bacterium responsible for killing saltwater crocodiles at a Top End Wildlife Park.

  9. Source water key to bacterial water safety in remote Northern Australia

    Source water key to bacterial water safety in remote Northern Australia

    Date

    In the new work, Mirjam Kaestli of Charles Darwin University, Australia and colleagues including Menzies School of Health Research sampled water and biofilms from three remote Indigenous communities in Australia’s Northern Territory.

  10. Media Release | Source water holds key to bacterial water safety in remote North

    Media Release | Source water holds key to bacterial water safety in remote North

    Date

    CDU Research Fellow Mirjam Kaestli and colleagues including Menzies School of Health Research sampled water and biofilms from three remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

  11. Cases of deadly dirt disease melioidosis will increase, expert warns

    Cases of deadly dirt disease melioidosis will increase, expert warns

    Date

    Professor Bart Currie from the Menzies School of Health Research said he expected the melioidosis bacteria would increase in tropical regions.

  12. NMRC Strives to Reduce Risk of Melioidosis Among Deployed Sailors and Marines

    NMRC Strives to Reduce Risk of Melioidosis Among Deployed Sailors and Marines

    Date

    Dr. Kevin Schully, contractor and chief science officer with Naval Medical Research Center’s (NMRC) Austere environments Consortium for Enhanced Sepsis Outcomes Department (ACESO) recently retuned stateside after screening Sailors and Marines deployed to Darwin, Australia, who are at risk of developing melioidosis.

  13. Territory sporting great, tough battle with melioidosis | NT News

    Territory sporting great, tough battle with melioidosis | NT News

    Date

    Former Essendon great Michael Long credits Professor Bart Currie for his diagnosis and treatment for melioidosis.

  14. Building genomics expertise in the NT

    Building genomics expertise in the NT

    Date

    Menzies is investing and developing expertise in the emerging research area of genome sequencing. In the past year, we took the lead in a number of national and international collaborative programs investigating the genomics of tropical pathogens, and...

  15. Melioidosis study improves patient outcomes

    Melioidosis study improves patient outcomes

    Date

    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...

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

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

    Date

    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.

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

    Menzies helps track the travels of the deadly melioidosis bacteria

    Date

    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.

  18. Melioidosis: The Most Neglected Tropical Disease

    Melioidosis: The Most Neglected Tropical Disease

    Date

    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, isn’t frequently found in newspaper headlines.

  19. Jessica Webb 2016: Barbara Hale Fellowship Winner

    Jessica Webb 2016: Barbara Hale Fellowship Winner

    Date

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

  20. Menzies melioidosis project recognised among Australia's best

    Menzies melioidosis project recognised among Australia's best

    Date

    A Menzies project has been recognised amongst the nation’s premier research projects by Australia’s peak body for health and medical research.

  21. ABC Catalyst: Melioidosis feature

    ABC Catalyst: Melioidosis feature

    Date

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

  22. The melioidosis files

    The melioidosis files

    Date

    A potentially fatal bacterial disease, lurking in soil.