Photo: Microbiology Lab, Ibrahim Medical College
Scientists have recently found a fatal infectious bacterium in the soil of Kapasia in Gazipur, for the first time in Bangladesh.
Known as Burkholderia pseudomallei, these bacteria can cause melioidosis, a rare disease that leads to serious infections of lung, blood and other organs, doctors and scientists say.
Since 2001, doctors of Ibrahim Medical College have detected five such patients, who are also diabetic. All these patients come from Mymensingh-Gazipur region, which led scientists to look for the bacteria in the area.
If melioidosis remains undiagnosed and untreated for long, chances of death are 80 percent, doctors say.
Similar to tuberculosis in many ways, the disease usually requires four to six months of antibiotic treatment that can become quite expensive when the germ turns out to be resistant to the common antibiotics.
Scientists and doctors say the number of people infected by the bacteria might be higher, but the germ goes undetected because of the ignorance of doctors and microbiologists about the presence of these bacteria.
This germ may silently live in a human body for decades. It manifests its presence through various symptoms when the carrier person's immune system is damaged by diabetes, kidney failure, liver cirrhosis and AIDS.
"We have had patients who were infected by the bacteria. But we could not detect its origin. Now we have found the bacteria in the soil of Kapasia in Gazipur," said J Ashraful Haq, a professor of microbiology at Ibrahim Medical College.
Statistics on how many people in Bangladesh are infected by the bacteria are not available, said the professor, who has been conducting a research to detect the germ for more than a decade.
The bacteria can invade human body through skin, inhalation and contaminated food, he told The Daily Star.
“Diagnosis of melioidosis is difficult as people react differently to the bacteria. Signs of the disease range from apparently harmless abscess to pneumonia to blood infection,” Prof Haq said.
He first detected the bacteria in a diabetic patient in 2001. In the next few years he detected several other cases of melioidosis in diabetic patients -- all coming from Mymensingh and Tangail.
This led him and Shariful Alam Jilani, another professor of the same department, and Prof Chowdhury Rafiqul Ahsan and Jamshedul Alam of Dhaka University to start a research to ascertain the source of the bacteria in the beginning of last year. They finally found it in the soil of Kapasia late last month.
They are looking for the germ in the soil of other parts of the country.
Melioidosis is of public health importance in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Laos, Myanmar and northern Australia where it is associated with high fatality rates, Haq said.