The death toll from an outbreak of meliodosis, a disease caused by bacteria in the soil, rose to seven on Sunday as the government warned residents of Kaohsiung and Tainan counties and cities to exercise caution.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 19 people have contracted melioidosis since the first local case was reported on July 11. Three patients remain in intensive care, the CDC said.
The center added that of the 19 cases, 10 occurred in Kaoshiung County, four in Tainan City, three in Tainan County and two in Kaoshiung City.
The mortality rate for melioidosis stands at close to 40 percent, reports Taiwan News.
According to the AP, Typhoon Haitang - which caused widespread flooding in mid-July - may have played a role in the illnesses by washing the bacteria out of the soil and polluting the water, said CDC official Wu Ping-Huei, adding that 14 of the patients lived near the Erhjen Creek in southern Taiwan.
Another potential cause of infection is direct contact between wounds and polluted soil, he said, adding that the disease is not transferable between humans. “People with wounds should stay away from polluted water or soil,”
Also known as Whitmore's disease, melioidosis is an infectious disease caused by the burkholderia pseudomallei bacterium. The bacterium is usually found in contaminated water or soil and is spread to humans and animals through direct contact.
As the majority of the patients lived along the heavily polluted Erjen Creek that runs through Tainan and Kaohsiung counties, the health department has urged the public to be on guard and avoid contaminated water or soil.
Health officials also warned people with diabetes, weak immune systems or open wounds not to expose themselves to polluted water or soil. If they do and get a fever, they should immediately seek medical attention, informs Taipei times.
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