How a La Nina wet season could bring deadly airborne bacteria to Australia that causes pneumonia

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How a La Nina wet season could bring a deadly airborne bacteria to Australia that causes pneumonia and even DEATH

  • Extreme weather patterns could see deadly disease numbers surge in Top End
  • Ground-dwelling bacteria rises to the surface during the La Nina wet season
  • The bacteria can cause Melioidosis, also known as Nightcliff Gardener’s Disease

Extreme weather patterns currently impacting Australia could see a surge in deadly ground-dwelling bacteria, an infectious disease expert has warned.

Professor Bart Currie says the onset of the La Nina climate cycle will trigger a rise in Melioidosis, also known as Nightcliff Gardener’s Disease.

The illness has a mortality rate of about 10 per cent in the Northern Territory and can cause respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia.

Extreme weather patterns currently impacting Australia could see a surge in deadly ground-dwelling bacteria

Professor Bart Currie says the onset of the La Nina climate cycle will trigger a rise in Melioidosis (pictured, a Bureau of Meteorology graphic highlights how La Nina works)

Professor Bart Currie says the onset of the La Nina climate cycle will trigger a rise in Melioidosis (pictured, a Bureau of Meteorology graphic highlights how La Nina works)

‘It very much follows rainfall patterns, so that’s why the prediction is we’ll have more cases this year,’ Professor Currie told the NT

‘They get activated during the wet season and move to the surface. These bacteria are very common across the Top End, particularly in all Darwin suburbs.’

The bacteria can get into the bloodstream through open wounds or by ingestion via dust or water droplets. 

According to the The Bureau of Meteorology, La Nina weather patterns occur when equatorial trade winds become stronger, changing ocean surface currents and drawing cooler deep water up from below.

When this happens warm surface water piles up in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, where the Top End of Australia sits.

‘The warming of ocean temperatures in the western Pacific means the area becomes more favourable for rising air, cloud development and rainfall,’ BoM says on their website

Meliodosis in the NT:  

Cases in the 12 months to September 30, 2020: 45

Cases in the 12 months to September 30, 2019: 47

Fatality rate of 10 per cent in the NT, up to 40 per cent in third-world countries

People show symptoms between one and 21 days after being infected

Infected people need to be on antibiotics for at least three months 

Source: NT Health, NT CDC

 

Effects of La Nina:

Increased rainfall across much of Australia

Cooler daytime temperatures (south of the tropics)

Warmer overnight temperatures (in the north)

Shift in temperature extremes

Decreased frost risk

Greater tropical cyclone numbers

Earlier monsoon onset

Source: Bureau of Meteorology

 

This means wetter weather, cooler days, warmer nights and heightened risk of cyclones.

Last month, BoM declared La Nina will be active across Australia this summer.

Professor Currie said the last La Nina wet season was the ‘worst ever year’ for melioidosis.

The disease is usually only severe in those who have other health risk factors such as diabetes, kidney or lung problems and cancer.

But anyone who consumes a large amount of alcohol or takes immunosuppressants drugs such as steroids, can also be at significant risk. 

The Centre for Disease Control NT recommends wearing waterproof boots when walking through wet areas, using gloves and thoroughly washing any wounds to avoid infection.

Professor Currie said the last La Nina wet season was the 'worst ever year' for melioidosis

Professor Currie said the last La Nina wet season was the ‘worst ever year’ for melioidosis

La Nina means wetter weather, cooler days, warmer nights and heightened risk of cyclones

La Nina means wetter weather, cooler days, warmer nights and heightened risk of cyclones

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