Killer bacteria cases expected to surge in La Nina wet season

CASES of a disease caused by ground-dwelling bacteria could surge this wet season across the Top End because of La Nina.

Melioidosis, also known as Nightcliff Gardener's Disease, has a 10 per cent mortality rate in the Northern Territory.

Symptoms typically include respiratory problems such as pneumonia.

Infections typically surge during La Nina years, with melioidosis expert Professor Bart Currie warning "worst ever year" for the illness was during the 2010-11 wet season.

Bart Currie is an expert on melioidosis. Picture: Che Chorley
Bart Currie is an expert on melioidosis. Picture: Che Chorley

"It very much follows rainfall patterns, so that's why the prediction is we'll have more cases this year, if indeed the La Nina weather patterns lead to more rain," Professor Currie said.

"They get activated during the wet season and move to the surface," he said.

"These bacteria are very common across the Top End, particularly in all Darwin suburbs."

The Bureau of Meteorology last month declared a La Nina as active across Australia this summer, meaning a very high chance of above average rainfall across the continent.

What is La Nina and how does it affect you?: The Bureau of Meteorology tells us we're in a La Nina year. But what does that mean? How is it different from El Nino?
What is La Nina and how does it affect you?: The Bureau of Meteorology tells us we're in a La Nina year. But what does that mean? How is it different from El Nino?

Professor Currie said people with diabetes, kidney or lung disease and cancer were at a higher risk of death from the disease.

People who consume heavy amounts of alcohol or are on immunosuppressants such as steroids were also at risk.

"The disease is severe, predominantly only in people who have identified risk factors," he said.

The bacteria infect people through cuts and sores or by breathing in dust or water droplets.

Professor Currie said Territorians, especially those with risk factors, needed to take precautions when gardening or pressure hosing during the wet season.

The Centre for Disease Control NT recommended wearing waterproof shoes or boots, gloves and washing cuts and wounds.

People with risk factors should also avoid going outside during "periods of heavy wind and rain in the Top End."