Scientists at the University of Exeter recently conducted 20 years of work on a vaccine for melioidosis (or Whitmore’s disease) that could protect countless people in many tropical areas from this typically deadly ilness.
The disease comes from a bacterium called Burkholderia pseudomallei, which transmits the illness through dust and soil. Scientists have not found why the bacterium only infects people and animals within tropical areas; sometimes U.K. residents develop the disease when they vacation abroad.
Melioidosis is the third-leading infectious disease cause of death in Northeast Thailand, surpassed by only tuberculosis and HIV. Melioidosis is also the leading cause of fatal community-acquired septicemic pneumonia in Northern Australia.
“Because of new technology we have been able to look at the genetic makeup of the bacterium and start to understand how the bacteria adapt to conditions during chronic infection,” Richard Titball, an Exeter professor of Molecular Microbiology, said. "We now want to carry out further work to determine whether one or more of the proteins are responsible for this enhanced protection, and to test additional proteins to see if they can be protective antigens."