Outdoor World

How Experts Fight A Disease When They Dont Know Whom Its Killing

This article is part of HuffPost’s Project Zero campaign, a yearlong series on neglected tropical illness and efforts to fight them.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Rostam Ramili was a battle-hardened cameraman who had cheated fatality in Iraq and walked amongst the wreckings of quake-ravaged Nepal. He could not have maybe believed his purpose would come from filming a cookery program in his own country of Malaysia.

“War assignments were his favourite. He was never afraid, ” said his widow, Diyana Kamalludden, sitting in front of their wedding photo in a middle-class, residential area of the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

While on his domestic cooking assigning last May, Ramili helped colleagues to pull a root out of the ground. Perhaps it was through a scratch on his hand or maybe he inhaled some particles of earth, but somehow the bacteria that makes melioidosis, also known as Whitmore’s disease, invaded the 40 -year-old cameraman’s body.

Joshua Paul for HuffPost Diyana Kamalludden, 36, looks at a digital portrait of her late spouse, Rostam Ramili.

“When he came back, he was normal for days, ” Diyana remembered. “Then my sister suddenly called me at work to say that he was vomiting and had a high fever, and was walking around the house like a zombie. When I came back home, he couldn’t even stand up and he was ranting and raving.”

As another family member tried lifting him, Diyana noticed he’d lost an astonishing quantity of weight. They called paramedics to rush him to the hospital. “I was driving behind, faster than the ambulance, ” Diyana said.

Endemic but not exclusive to Malaysia, melioidosis typically affects farmers and construction builders. The disease’s agent typically lives under about a foot of soil or in contaminated sea. Nicknamed the “great mimicker, ” melioidosis has no specific symptoms and can easily be confused with other endemic illness such as dengue or leptospirosis, which likewise cause pneumonia, high fever, headache and muscle tenderness, as well as disarray and loss of weight — as was the case for Ramili.

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