Caused by the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei, also called Whitmore bacillus, melioidosis can lead to sepsis. The disease is endemic in Southeast Asia and northern Australia. An increasing number of infections has been reported in recent years in Europe.

The acute form of the disease, which is transmitted from animals to humans, occurs by respiratory infections (necrotizing pneumonia) and septicemia (with high fever, headache, diarrhea, vomiting, skin lesions and abscesses). The authors of the study, published Monday in the journal Nature Microbiology, the disease that spreads mainly through animals, is difficult to diagnose. The bacterium is resistant to many antibiotics addition.

The disease “kills many people silently,” he told AFP Direk Limmathurotsakul, the research unit of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University in Bangkok, co-author of the study. “This is a disease and under estimated as analyzed,” added he.

By studying the data published between 1910 and 2014, the researchers found that the disease was largely underestimated in 45 countries where it is present and in 34 others where it has never been listed.

They also evaluate to 165,000 the number of new cases of melioidosis each year worldwide, 89,000 of which result in death. Given the population displacements and pathogens, melioidosis might develop in the future in areas not yet affected areas, they add before inviting health authorities to give greater priority to this disease.

Chronic forms are characterized by abscesses and suppurative lung lesions (simulating tuberculosis), liver, intestine, spleen, but on the skin and in the brain. Infection occurs by abrasions, burns or wounds contaminated but also by ingestion or inhalation. Melioidosis is with HIV and tuberculosis, one of the top three causes of mortality resulting from infectious disease in parts of Southeast Asia.