This Deadly Bacteria can travel from the nose to the brain within 24 hours

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Imagine walking around and you sniff it up from the soil and the next day you've got this bacteria in your brain and damaging the spinal cord.

A joint study by the Griffith University and Bond University has found new deadly bacteria that can be “picked up by a simple sniff.” What makes it terrifying is that it can travel from a person’s nose to brain and spinal cord in 24 hours or less.

Causing the potentially fatal disease melioidosis, the pathogenic bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei is believed to kill as much as 89,000 people worldwide. It is, however, more prevalent in northern Australia and southeast Asia.

Researchers believe that this new finding could help them shed light on how the staphylococcus and acne bacterium could end up in the spinal cord, and how chlamydia travels to the brain in Alzheimer's patients.

According to Dr. James St John, Head of Griffith's Clem Jones Centre for Neurobiology and Stem Cell Research, Burkholderia pseudomallei could slip into your system undetected.

"Imagine walking around and you sniff it up from the soil and the next day you've got this bacteria in your brain and damaging the spinal cord,” he said.

“It can be at a very low level, the body doesn't even know it's there. You could have it and don't know it, that's scary.

"It could just be sitting there waiting for an opportune moment, or it could just be doing small incremental damage over a lifetime. You could lose the function in your brain incrementally."

Using mice to test how the bacteria travel, the team of researchers—comprised of Dr. St. John together with Associate Professor Jenny Ekberg from Bond University and Professor for Beacham from the Institute for Glycomics—discovered that it moves from the nerves in the nasal cavity, then onto the brain stem and finally into the spinal cord.

In Southeast Asia alone it is believed that as much as 50 percent of the population may be positive for melioidosis, while in places like Cambodia, the mortality rate is a terrifying 50%.

"But what are the long term consequences?” says Associate Professor Ekberg. “Do the bacteria hide away until sometime later and do little bits of incremental damage, or do they immediately cause full blown infection? We are now working on these questions."

Meanwhile, Dr. St John thinks this could be a pathway for many other common bacteria.

“What excites me most is the idea that other bacteria could also use this route. Bacteria have been implicated as a major causative agent of some types of back pain.

“We now need to work out whether the bacteria that cause back pain also can enter the brainstem and spinal cord via the trigeminal nerve.”

In a Medical Express article, it said that by discovering the pathway, researchers will work on ways to stimulate supporting cells that could remove the bacteria.

Because the bacteria can be used as a potential bioweapon, Dr. St. John says it’s important that they find ways to combat it.

"Our latest results represent the first direct demonstration of transit of a bacterium from the olfactory mucosa to the central nervous system (CNS) via the trigeminal nerve; bacteria were found a considerable distance from the olfactory mucosa, in the brain stem, and even more remarkably in the spinal cord," he said Professor Beacham.

"These results add considerably to our understanding of this particular disease. It seems likely, however, that other bacteria may also transit from nose to CNS, although this has yet to be determined.".

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Written by

Vanessa Tang