Vidyya Medical News Service
Volume 6 Issue 262 Published - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 18-Sep-2004 Next Update - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 19-Sep-2004
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Authorities in Singapore warn about rising death toll from soil-based, tropical-disease, melioidosis

Twenty-three deaths caused by the soil-borne bacterial disease, melioidosis, prompted Singapore to investigate whether it had been made into a weapon and was being used as a bio-warfare agent.

But the probe found the DNA of the bacteria cells were genetically different from each other, indicating they were not prepared in a laboratory, he said. The reasons for the increased number of cases has not been determined.

The tropical disease, melioidosis, is most common in Southeast Asia and northern Australia and is caused by bacteria in soil rising to the surface and mixing with water during heavy rainfall. It can contracted by inhalation, contact with contaminated soil, or drinking contaminated water. The illness causes pneumonia, fever, anorexia, muscle soreness and chest pain.

Melioidosis is recognized internationally as a possible a bio-warfare agent. The United States earmarked $50 million last year for research into vaccines and new treatments for the disease and other illnesses.

Singapore has an average of 57 cases of the disease and 12 deaths a year. But since January, there have already been 57 cases and 23 deaths, according to statistics posted on the Health Ministry's Web site.

A sudden cluster of melioidosis cases--11 in one week--prompted officials to launch the probe to check if the disease had been used in a weapon, director of Medical Services K Satkunanantham said in a speech Thursday at the 4th World Melioidosis Congress.

Singapore has been on high alert for terror attacks and has detained suposed Islamic militants suspected of plotting to attack military, diplomatic and commercial targets.

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