It kills 89,000 people around the world each year, it’s prevalent in northern Australia and Southeast Asia, and you can catch it with a simple sniff. It’s a bacterium called Burkholderia pseudomallei and it causes a disease called melioidosis. People can become ill almost immediately, or suffer incremental damage over a lifetime.
The scary thing is how quickly the bacteria can become lodged in your central nervous system. A new Griffith University and Bond University study has found that after they’re inhaled they can travel to your brain and spinal cord in just 24 hours.
The team studied mice and found that the bacteria travel from the nerves in the nasal cavity before moving to the brain stem and then into the spinal cord. They suggest that this could also be a pathway for other common bacteria. By discovering the pathway, researchers will now work on ways to stimulate supporting cells that could remove the bacteria.
The research is important for improving health in Australia, but also in Southeast Asia, where up to 50 per cent of the population may be positive for melioidosis. By funding university research and keeping Australia clever, we’re bringing benefits to our own country and to the wider region.