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Melioidosis is a rare but potentially life-threatening infectious disease caused by the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei. This disease primarily affects individuals living in Southeast Asia and Northern Australia, where the bacterium is endemic. Melioidosis can manifest in various ways, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. It is crucial to understand the signs and symptoms of melioidosis to ensure early diagnosis and prompt treatment.

Fever: A Prominent Indicator

Fever is one of the most common symptoms of melioidosis. The infected individual may experience a persistent high fever that does not respond to typical antipyretic medications. This fever is often accompanied by other flu-like symptoms, such as headache, muscle aches, and joint pain.

Respiratory Distress: A Cause for Concern

In severe cases of melioidosis, the bacterium can invade the respiratory system, leading to respiratory distress. The infected individual may experience difficulty breathing, chest pain, and coughing. These symptoms should not be ignored, as they may indicate a severe infection that requires immediate medical attention.

Stomach Pain and Diarrhea: Gastrointestinal Involvement

Melioidosis can also affect the gastrointestinal system, causing symptoms such as stomach pain and diarrhea. These symptoms may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. It is essential to stay hydrated and seek medical assistance if these symptoms persist or worsen.

Skin Infections and Abscesses: Visible Manifestations

Burkholderia pseudomallei can enter the body through cuts or wounds, leading to localized skin infections. These infections may present as painful, swollen, and pus-filled abscesses. It is crucial to keep wounds clean and seek medical attention if any signs of infection develop.

Sepsis: A Life-Threatening Complication

In severe cases, melioidosis can progress to sepsis, a life-threatening condition characterized by a systemic infection. Sepsis can lead to organ failure and, if left untreated, can be fatal. It is vital to recognize the signs of sepsis, such as rapid breathing, confusion, and decreased urine output, and seek immediate medical attention.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing melioidosis can be challenging due to its nonspecific symptoms and the need for specialized laboratory tests. If melioidosis is suspected, healthcare professionals may perform blood cultures, sputum cultures, or tissue biopsies to identify the presence of Burkholderia pseudomallei.

Once diagnosed, melioidosis is typically treated with a prolonged course of antibiotics. The specific antibiotics and duration of treatment depend on the severity of the infection. Intravenous antibiotics are often required for severe cases, followed by oral antibiotics to complete the treatment course.

Tips for Prevention

  • Avoid direct contact with soil and water in endemic areas.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as gloves and boots, when working in environments where the bacterium may be present.
  • Practice good hygiene, including regular handwashing with soap and water.
  • Seek medical attention for any cuts or wounds to prevent potential infection.


Melioidosis is a serious infectious disease that requires prompt diagnosis and treatment. Recognizing the symptoms, such as fever, respiratory distress, stomach pain, and skin infections, is crucial for early intervention. By following preventive measures and seeking medical attention when necessary, individuals can reduce their risk of contracting melioidosis. Remember, early detection and appropriate treatment are key to a successful recovery from this potentially life-threatening disease.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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