REAL AUSTRALIA

Voice of Real Australia: Another thing that can kill you in the Top End

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by editor of the Katherine Times Chris McLennan.

The waters of the Top End may look inviting, but, no, not really. Photo: Shutterstock

The waters of the Top End may look inviting, but, no, not really. Photo: Shutterstock

There is something even more lethal than a crocodile hidden in the tropical dirt of the Top End.

We refer to it as the mud bug, or gardener's disease, although officially it's called melioidosis.

Almost all people who don't live in the tropics have never heard of it.

Melioidosis is a disease caused by the bacterium, Burkholderia pseudomallei, which is found in tropical soil.

Visitors quickly learn to stay at least 10 metres from the impossibly turquoise Arafura Sea because if the crocs don't leap out at you, dangling your toes in the water can be an open invitation to stingers or box jellyfish.

The crystal clear inland rivers look cool and refreshing but monsters are waiting there as well.

The return of wet season rains over the past week also brings out hordes of mosquitoes who can flatten you with awful diseases like Ross River virus and Murray Valley encephalitis.

Keen gardeners outside the tropics imagine the almighty growth they could achieve in our northern climate but digging in our dirt can kill.

Already the soil-borne disease has infected five people in the Top End and the rains have only just arrived.

By the end of the Melioidosis season, about 50 will have fallen to it between the wet season months of October to May.

It's just started raining but already people are discovering the impact of the potentially deadly mud bug.

It's just started raining but already people are discovering the impact of the potentially deadly mud bug.

Last year there were 42 cases and one death. On average, one out of every 10 people who get it, die.

Live up here long enough and you will meet people who have survived it.

The bloke who used to butter the toast at the Salvos for homeless people, had no legs - melioidosis.

The drummer with no arms and legs performing at the Katherine Hotel - melioidosis.

Each year the Northern Territory Government issues a health warning about it.

Melioidosis victims: Ralph Hall and Brian Roberts

Melioidosis victims: Ralph Hall and Brian Roberts

On social media last night a former resident of the Tindal RAAF Base, just outside Katherine in the outback of the NT, recounted her own horrifying experience.

Nine months on antibiotics, close to death.

People up here don't let their kids go outside in the wet season unless they're wearing shoes.

Parents warn them about playing in the mud.

Health authorities want us to cover up the avoid the mozzies, the sun, the water, even the dirt we walk on.

So if you intend to visit, and there's still plenty of things you can do and still make it safely home, if you see us clanking about in a medieval set of armour you can understand we take some things seriously.

Chris McLennan, editor, Katherine Times

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