Epidemiology and Infection

Acute melioidosis outbreak in Western Australia

T. J. J. INGLIS a1c1, S. C. GARROW a2, C. ADAMS a3, M. HENDERSON a1, M. MAYO a4 and B. J. CURRIE a4
a1 Western Australian Centre for Pathology and Medical Research (PathCentre)
a2 Kimberley Public Health Unit, Derby, Western Australia
a3 Communicable Disease Control Branch, Health Department of Western Australia
a4 Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin, Northern Territory


A cluster of acute melioidosis cases occurred in a remote, coastal community in tropical Western Australia. Molecular typing of Burkholderia pseudomallei isolates from culture-confirmed cases and suspected environmental sources by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) of XbaI chromosomal DNA digests showed that a single PFGE type was responsible for five cases of acute infection in a community of around 300 during a 5 week period. This temporal and geographical clustering of acute melioidosis cases provided a unique opportunity to investigate the environmental factors contributing to this disease. B. pseudomallei isolated from a domestic tap at the home of an asymptomatic seroconverter was indistinguishable by PFGE. Possible contributing environmental factors included an unusually acid communal water supply, unrecordable chlorine levels during the probable exposure period, a nearby earth tremor, and gusting winds during the installation of new water and electricity supplies. The possible role of the potable water supply as a source of B. pseudomallei was investigated further.

(Accepted July 23 1999)

c1 Author for correspondence: Dr TJJ Inglis, Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, PathCentre, Locked Bag 2009, Nedlands, WA 6009, Australia.