Diabetics more vulnerable to potentially fatal soil disease infection

PHOTO: Diabetics more vulnerable to potentially fatal soil disease infection

Photo above: A foreign worker suffering from diabetes contracted melioidosis, or soil disease, while digging trenches at a construction site and had to have all 10 toes amputated.

SINGAPORE - Due to a deficiency in their immune systems, diabetics are more susceptible to contracting melioidosis, a potentially fatal soil disease.

This was the finding of Singapore scientists, who discovered that patients with Type 2 diabetes have a deficiency in the molecule glutathione.

According to lead researcher Associate Professor Gan Yunn Hwen, the research found that when diabetics are faced with oxidative stress, the blood cells of the patients become deficient in an antioxidant called glutathione.

Oxidative stress is the physiological stress on the body caused by the cumulative damage done by free radicals inadequately neutralized by antioxidants.

This affects the cells' ability to kill undesirable bacteria, and hence, diabetics are less able to fight off tuberculosis, which, along with blood infection, is known to be linked to melioidosis.

Melioidosis is caused by bacteria in soil and water, found throughout Southeast Asia and northern Australia.

It is known to be very difficult to treat, as the bacteria is highly resistant to antibiotics.

The Straits Times reported that the soil bacteria is of serious concern to the Ministry of Defence due to the potential risk it carries for soldiers in the fied.

In 2004, an outbreak in melioidosis killed 15 people.

"The fact that melioidosis is endemic in this region, coupled with the fast growing Type 2 diabetics in Asia, is worrying," said Prof Gan.

According to the International Diabetes Federation, 11 per cent of adults here suffer from diabetes.

The researchers said that the next step to take will be to seek a treatment option.

Previous research has found that the diabetes drug glibenclamide can halve the death rate from this soil disease.

However, this treatment option may not be suitable for non-diabetics, as it drastically reduces blood sugar levels.

In the latest research, conducted on 45 healthy patients and 45 diabetics, it was also found that the drug Fluimucil, which thins mucus in the airways, may help reduce the risk of soil disease among diabetics.