“What happens is when the soil gets wet bacteria get disturbed and become more easily able to affect people,” Dr Blaskovich said.
“Especially if people have any small cuts on their skin, the bacteria can easily get into the skin and potentially start an infection.”
Queensland normally sees an average of 10 cases of melioidosis annually, meaning it has already exceeded its yearly total for the condition.
It usually presents with flu-like symptoms initially, including fever and shortness of breath, but conditions rapidly worsen once they begin.
The bacteria is particularly resistant to antibiotics, meaning those who afflicted are hit hard, with a mortality rate of 20 per cent.
“It can take a long time for symptoms to appear, weeks or even months after exposure,” Dr Blaskovich said.
“It’s important if people are feeling sick and they have been exposed to floodwaters that they go to the doctor and let them know that’s a possibility.”
Dr Julie Mudd from the Townsville Hospital and Health Service said the unit was working with GPs to ensure people were screened if they had been exposed to flood water or mud.
“It’s a very serious affliction, and that’s why we’ve put out so many messages to the community about prevention,” Dr Mudd said.
“So while not every case can be prevented, simple things like making sure you wear gloves and boots when cleaning up, making sure that wounds are clean and apply antiseptic, these simple measures can protect the public from further cases.”
In addition to the bacteria that cause melioidosis, there are concerns about more common bugs in flood water and mud, including e-coli and related bacteria from sewage that could have contaminated the water.
Townsville’s health authorities are particularly monitoring for any cases of leptospirosis, caused by exposure to faeces, which has a longer incubation period.
“We have had a couple of flood-related infections from waterborne diseases, but those have been fairly simple wound infections and they’ve been managed,” Dr Mudd said.
“We do currently have a few other people in hospital who have broadly consistent symptoms (with melioidosis) but this is a fairly broad initial presentation.
“All of those people will be tested, which takes a few days.”
Mould now creeping across many of the flood-affected homes is only adding to the issues those cleaning up face.
In addition to being unsightly and hard to remove, it can cause respiratory problems, especially in people with pre-existing conditions such as asthma.
Asthma Australia general manager of health programs Jo Williams said it was vital people who already suffered from asthma to take necessary precautions.
“People should initially get their asthma under control by taking preventative medication and having their inhaler handy,” Ms Williams said.
“Then they need to get rid of that mould as quickly as they can, wearing protective gear, especially face masks.”
More than 3000 Townsville properties have been affected by flooding, more than 1000 of those suffering either moderate or severe damage.
Stuart Layt covers health, science and technology for the Brisbane Times. He was formerly the Queensland political reporter for AAP.