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MOCRU and its partner Medical Action Myanmar (MAM) have begun a study to identify areas in Myanmar where Burkholderia pseudomallei is present in the soil and where people are at risk of melioidosis, a difficult to diagnose deadly bacterial disease.

Composite photo of researchers analysing the soil for melioisodis bacteria (B. pseudomallei) in Myanmar

MOCRU Director Frank Smithuis is Principal Investigator for the study, which will take 2,000 samples from 200 locations across Myanmar and then look at hospitals where B. pseudomallei seems prevalent and see if it can confirm melioidosis in patients. The Dept of Medical research will do the microbiology for the study.

A highly pathogenic bacterium commonly found in soil and water in South and Southeast Asia and endemic in northeast Thailand and northern Australia, B. pseudomallei causes melioidosis. Contracted through the skin, lungs or by drinking contaminated water, melioidosis is difficult to diagnose as it mimics other diseases. B. pseudomallei is resistant to a wide range of antimicrobials, and a cause of sepsis with a high mortality rate (50-90% depending on level of care available).  

Although melioidosis was first described in Rangoon (Yangon) in 1912, the distribution of B. pseudomallei in soil and the extent of melioidosis in Myanmar remains largely unknown. Local studies have confirmed the presence of B. pseudomallei in soil and confirmed clinical cases of melioidosis in Yangon. Other melioidosis cases have been found on the Thai-Myanmar border.

Funded by MAM, the study will run for 6-12 months and contribute to the global mapping of B. pseudomallei.

A landmark 2016 study by MORU’s Direk Limmathurotsakul that predicted that melioidosis is likely to be present in many more countries than previously thought, estimated that there may have been up to 6,247 melioidosis cases resulting in 3,687 deaths in Myanmar in 2015.

-Text and photos courtesy of Frank Smithuis and Liz Ashley

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