In 1911, researchers Alfred Whitmore and C.S. Krishnaswami found that morphine addicts in the Yangon area of Myanmar (formerly known as Rangoon) were getting a deadly illness that looked like glanders, a disease mainly affecting horses.
When they examined the bodies of these patients after death, they saw that their lungs were filled with a cheesy substance, and they had abscesses in their liver, spleen, kidney, and under the skin. Whitmore named the newly discovered bacterium Bacillus pseudomallei – the causative agent of melioidosis.
In 1913, a severe distemper-like illness affected the animal facility at the Institute of Medical Research in Kuala Lumpur. This was identified to be melioidosis several years later.
In 1932, researchers Stanton and Fletcher, who worked at the same institute, published a comprehensive book about melioidosis. The name of the disease was derived from the Greek words ‘melis’, meaning distemper of asses, and ‘eidos’, denoting resemblance.
In 1989, research showed that the antibiotic ceftazidime was linked to a 50% decrease in overall mortality compared to a combination of chloramphenicol, doxycycline, and trimethoprim-sulphamethoxazole. This is why Ceftazidime is widely used to treat melioidosis even today.