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Townsville flood leaves eight people ill from potentially deadly soil bacteria

By Leonie Mellor, Stephanie Smail and staff, Monday February 11, 2019 - 21:22 EDT
ABC image
Soldiers removing flood damaged items from houses in the Townsville suburb of Mundingburra. - ABC
ABC licensed image
Werna Station grazier Emma Forster said kangaroos and emus had died along with livestock. - ABC licensed

A potentially deadly disease is infecting vulnerable Townsville residents amid the flood clean-up, health authorities in the north Queensland city are warning.



Townsville public health unit acting director Dr Julie Mudd said eight people had so far been diagnosed with melioidosis, an environmental bacteria picked up from the soil.

She said most of those people have ended up in intensive care.

"We expect these cases with every wet season," Dr Mudd said.

"The wetter the season, the more cases we expect to get.

"It's not spread from person to person and it's something we see in people who have a vulnerability of their immune system."

This includes people on medication, diabetics, people with chronic airways disease and the elderly.



Dr Mudd said the bacteria could be deadly for people lacking the immunity to fight it.

"People do get very sick so a lot of people with melioidosis will require ICU care," she said.

"It is quite a severe illness in this form so usually people will have quite high fevers and be very unwell."



She said anyone concerned should seek medical attention.

People cleaning up after the floods are advised to wear protective equipment, cover any wounds and protect their airways if working around mud.

Dr Mudd also said health workers were on the look-out for anyone with leptospirosis — another bacterial infection commonly caused by contaminated soil or water.
But she said so far, no-one had been diagnosed with the condition.

The clean-up continues in earnest across flood-affected Townsville suburbs, aided by local soldiers who are picking up flood debris and taking it away to the tip.



The Queensland Fire and Emergency Service said SES volunteers from across the state volunteered to travel to Townsville to help with the clean-up, as well as roof repairs.

Meanwhile, Queensland police released vision of in north-western Queensland.

Des Smith could not walk and had water lapping the tops of his knees as he sat in his mobility chair.

A policeman had to carry Mr Smith out of his flooded home to a rescue chopper waiting on nearby rail tracks.

Meanwhile, as graziers across Queensland's north-west struggle with the extent of stock losses from flooding, one grazier has told the ABC the smell of death on her property was inescapable.



Emma Forster from Werna Station, between Winton and Kynuna, has buried six horses in their front paddock.

"There is really not a lot left living of anything, just surrounded by death," she said.

"You just can't get away from it [the smell], it is going to get a lot worse, before it gets better.

"We have to be out and about in it, trying to save other stock."

She said it was not only livestock that had suffered.

"There is a ridge not far from our house and it is covered in dead kangaroos. The emus are all dead [and] we're not seeing much bird life," she said.


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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