Ecology of Burkholderia pseudomallei and the interactions between environmental Burkholderia spp. and human-animal hosts.
Early workers thought that melioidosis was a zoonosis with a reservoir in rodents, but we now know that Burkholderia pseudomallei is a widely distributed environmental saprophyte. In northeast Thailand, two thirds of paddy fields yield the organism, and 80% of children have antibodies by the time they are 4 years old. However, interpretation of these results has been complicated by the recent recognition of avirulent, antigenically cross-reacting environmental organisms for which the name B. thailandensis has been proposed. We still know very little about the climatic, physical, chemical and biological factors which control the proliferation and survival of Burkholderia spp. in the environment, although epidemiological studies show space-time clustering of melioidosis. It is assumed that most human and animal melioidosis arises through exposure to contaminated soil or muddy water, although only 6% of human cases have a clear history of inoculation, and a further 0.5% of cases follow near-drowning. Laboratory animals have also been infected by ingestion, inhalation and insect bites, but evidence of infection acquired naturally by these routes remains anecdotal. Sporadic cases have resulted from iatrogenic inoculation, laboratory accidents, and person-to-person or animal-to-person spread. Whether exposure to B. pseudomallei will result in disease probably depends on the balance between the virulence of the strain, the immune status of the host (e.g. diabetes mellitus) and the size of the inoculum.