A cluster of melioidosis cases from an endemic region is clonal and is linked to the water supply using molecular typing of Burkholderia pseudomallei isolates.

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  • 1 Menzies School of Health Research and Royal Darwin Hospital Clinical School, Northern Territory, Australia. bart@menzies.edu.au

Nine cases of melioidosis with four deaths occurred over a 28-month period in members of a small remote Aboriginal community in the top end of the Northern Territory of Australia. Typing by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis showed isolates of Burkholderia pseudomallei from six of the cases to be clonal and also identical to an isolate from the community water supply, but not to soil isolates. The clonality of the isolates found in this cluster contrasts with the marked genetic diversity of human and environmental isolates found in this region which is hyperendemic for B. pseudomallei. It is possible that the clonal bacteria persisted and were propagated in biofilm in the water supply system. While the exact mode of transmission to humans and the reasons for cessation of the outbreak remain uncertain, contamination of the unchlorinated community water supply is a likely explanation.