Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Burkholderia pseudomallei



Burkholderia pseudomallei


  • Last modified
  • 25 November 2019
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Burkholderia pseudomallei
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Bacteria
  •   Phylum: Proteobacteria
  •     Class: Betaproteobacteria
  •       Order: Burkholderiales
  •         Family: Burkholderiaceae

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Gram stain of Burkholderia pseudomallei grown on agar plates (oil immersion). Note the bipolar staining.
TitleGram stain
CaptionGram stain of Burkholderia pseudomallei grown on agar plates (oil immersion). Note the bipolar staining.
CopyrightJill F. Ellis
Gram stain of Burkholderia pseudomallei grown on agar plates (oil immersion). Note the bipolar staining.
Gram stainGram stain of Burkholderia pseudomallei grown on agar plates (oil immersion). Note the bipolar staining.Jill F. Ellis
Hypothesized cycle of infection of Burkholderia pseudomallei.
TitleLife cycle
CaptionHypothesized cycle of infection of Burkholderia pseudomallei.
CopyrightAdapted from Ellis & Titball, 1999. The Infectious Disease Review/Tamurlane Press Ltd.
Hypothesized cycle of infection of Burkholderia pseudomallei.
Life cycleHypothesized cycle of infection of Burkholderia pseudomallei.Adapted from Ellis & Titball, 1999. The Infectious Disease Review/Tamurlane Press Ltd.


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Burkholderia pseudomallei Yabuuchi et al., 1992

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Bacteria
  •     Phylum: Proteobacteria
  •         Class: Betaproteobacteria
  •             Order: Burkholderiales
  •                 Family: Burkholderiaceae
  •                     Genus: Burkholderia
  •                         Species: Burkholderia pseudomallei

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Last updated: 25 Feb 2021
Continent/Country/Region Distribution Last Reported Origin First Reported Invasive Reference Notes


AlgeriaAbsent, No presence record(s)
BotswanaAbsent, No presence record(s)
BurundiAbsent, No presence record(s)
Cabo VerdeAbsent, No presence record(s)
CameroonAbsent, No presence record(s)
Central African RepublicAbsent, No presence record(s)
Congo, Democratic Republic of theAbsent, No presence record(s)
Côte d'IvoireAbsent, No presence record(s)
DjiboutiAbsent, No presence record(s)
EritreaAbsent, No presence record(s)
EthiopiaAbsent, No presence record(s)
GuineaAbsent, No presence record(s)
MadagascarAbsent, No presence record(s)
MauritiusAbsent, No presence record(s)
NamibiaAbsent, No presence record(s)
São Tomé and PríncipeAbsent, No presence record(s)
SudanAbsent, No presence record(s)
TogoAbsent, No presence record(s)
TunisiaAbsent, No presence record(s)
UgandaAbsent, No presence record(s)
ZimbabweAbsent, No presence record(s)


BahrainAbsent, No presence record(s)
BhutanAbsent, No presence record(s)
GeorgiaAbsent, No presence record(s)
Hong KongAbsent, No presence record(s)
IndonesiaAbsent, No presence record(s)
JordanAbsent, No presence record(s)
KazakhstanAbsent, No presence record(s)
KuwaitAbsent, No presence record(s)
MalaysiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Peninsular MalaysiaPresent, Serological evidence and/or isolation of the agent
-SarawakPresent, Serological evidence and/or isolation of the agent
MongoliaAbsent, No presence record(s)
North KoreaAbsent, No presence record(s)
OmanAbsent, No presence record(s)
PhilippinesAbsent, No presence record(s)
South KoreaAbsent, No presence record(s)
Sri LankaAbsent, No presence record(s)
SyriaAbsent, No presence record(s)
TaiwanAbsent, No presence record(s)
TurkmenistanAbsent, No presence record(s)
United Arab EmiratesAbsent, No presence record(s)
VietnamAbsent, No presence record(s)


AustriaAbsent, No presence record(s)
BelarusAbsent, No presence record(s)
BulgariaAbsent, No presence record(s)
CroatiaAbsent, No presence record(s)
CyprusAbsent, No presence record(s)
CzechiaAbsent, No presence record(s)
EstoniaAbsent, No presence record(s)
FinlandAbsent, No presence record(s)
FranceAbsent, No presence record(s)
GermanyAbsent, No presence record(s)
GreeceAbsent, No presence record(s)
HungaryAbsent, No presence record(s)
IcelandAbsent, No presence record(s)
IrelandAbsent, No presence record(s)
Isle of ManAbsent, No presence record(s)
JerseyAbsent, No presence record(s)
LatviaAbsent, No presence record(s)
LiechtensteinAbsent, No presence record(s)
LithuaniaAbsent, No presence record(s)
LuxembourgAbsent, No presence record(s)
MaltaAbsent, No presence record(s)
MoldovaAbsent, No presence record(s)
NetherlandsAbsent, No presence record(s)
North MacedoniaAbsent, No presence record(s)
NorwayAbsent, No presence record(s)
PortugalAbsent, No presence record(s)
RomaniaAbsent, No presence record(s)
SlovakiaAbsent, No presence record(s)
SloveniaAbsent, No presence record(s)
SpainAbsent, No presence record(s)
SwedenAbsent, No presence record(s)
SwitzerlandAbsent, No presence record(s)
UkraineAbsent, No presence record(s)
United KingdomAbsent, No presence record(s)
-Northern IrelandAbsent, No presence record(s)

North America

BarbadosAbsent, No presence record(s)
BermudaAbsent, No presence record(s)
British Virgin IslandsAbsent, No presence record(s)
CanadaAbsent, No presence record(s)
Cayman IslandsAbsent, No presence record(s)
CubaAbsent, No presence record(s)
CuraçaoAbsent, No presence record(s)
DominicaAbsent, No presence record(s)
Dominican RepublicAbsent, No presence record(s)
El SalvadorAbsent, No presence record(s)
GuadeloupeAbsent, No presence record(s)
GuatemalaAbsent, No presence record(s)
HaitiAbsent, No presence record(s)
HondurasAbsent, No presence record(s)
JamaicaAbsent, No presence record(s)
NicaraguaAbsent, No presence record(s)
Saint Kitts and NevisAbsent, No presence record(s)
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesAbsent, No presence record(s)
Trinidad and TobagoAbsent, No presence record(s)


French PolynesiaAbsent, No presence record(s)
New CaledoniaPresent
New ZealandAbsent, No presence record(s)
VanuatuAbsent, No presence record(s)

South America

ArgentinaAbsent, No presence record(s)
BoliviaAbsent, No presence record(s)
BrazilAbsent, No presence record(s)
ChileAbsent, No presence record(s)
ColombiaAbsent, No presence record(s)
EcuadorAbsent, No presence record(s)
Falkland IslandsAbsent, No presence record(s)
GuyanaAbsent, No presence record(s)
PeruAbsent, No presence record(s)
UruguayAbsent, No presence record(s)
VenezuelaAbsent, No presence record(s)

Pathogen Characteristics

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B. pseudomallei is a small aerobic Gram-negative, motile rod-shaped bacterium, approximately 3-5 µm by 0.5-1 µm. Gram-stained smears of 18-24 h cultures on nutrient agars incubated at 37°C usually show bipolar staining. They are present singly, in pairs or sometimes in chains. After 48 h, the cells become oval, only staining at the periphery and may be mistaken for spores. Bipolar or uneven staining may be apparent in the bacteria in smears of clinical specimens, but the organism is not always seen in clinical specimens and definitive diagnosis depends on isolation and identification (Dance, 1998). Although an aerobe, B. pseudomallei can also grow anaerobically in complex media, requiring nitrate as the oxygen source (Groves, 1979).

The bacterium grows readily on or in simple nutrient media and can be recovered on most aerobically incubated primary isolation media used in clinical microbiology for enteric Gram negatives; notable exceptions to this are salmonella-shigella (SS) agar and deoxycholate-citrate agar (DCA) on which it is apparently reluctant to grow. On nutrient agar after 24 h at 37°C, colonies are small (0.5 to 1 mm in diameter), round, translucent, moist and slightly raised. By 48 h they become opaque, cream to yellow, 2-3 mm in diameter. With continued incubation, rough, heaped-up, 'corrugated' colonies may appear. On blood agar at 24 h, the colonies are transparent, shiny and convex; the confluent areas are grey to white with a sheen, and may be surrounded by a slight greening of the agar. On MacConkey’s agar, colonies are usually pink, but may be pink to colourless. Broths become uniformly turbid after 12 to 18 h at 37°C with a surface pellicle forming after continued incubation which becomes wrinkled and rough. A characteristic earthy, musty odour is frequently associated with these cultures.

The resistance of the Burkholderia pathogens to various dyes has allowed the formulation of media for selective separation from Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Pitt, 1990). Ashdown’s medium (Ashdown, 1979), containing glycerol (which induces the characteristic wrinkled colony morphology), crystal violet and gentamicin at concentrations inhibitory to various other bacteria, including Proteus, and neutral red (selectively absorbed by B. pseudomallei), is especially recommended for B. pseudomallei. On this, only pale pink pinpoint colonies are visible at 18-24 h; by 48 h, they are 1-2 mm, pinkish-purple, flat, slightly dry with a sheen. At 72 h, they are 2-3 mm, drier and wrinkled, deeper purple, though there may be mucoid variants or different coloured variants (Walsh and Wuthiekanun, 1996). Dry wrinkled, violet-purple colonies with the Gram-stain characteristics already described, permit a presumptive identification of B. pseudomallei (Gilligan and Whittier, 1991). An enrichment broth consisting of Ashdown medium supplemented with 50 mg/l of colistin enhances selective recovery of B. pseudomallei (Walsh et al., 1995).

Primary distinguishing characteristics when differentiating B. pseudomallei from its nearest pathogenic relatives, in particular, B. mallei, B. cepacia, P. aeruginosa and P. stutzeri, are its distinctive colonial morphology (P. stutzeri has a similar morphology), characteristic odour (B. cepacia has a similar odour) and motility (B. mallei is non-motile). A full bank of confirmatory tests is given in Table 1. Walsh and Wuthiekanun (1996) consider that complete accuracy in the identification of B. pseudomallei can be achieved with the simplified schema outlined in Table 2. A diagnostic phage was included in the earlier literature (Howe et al., 1971), but is not included in more recent texts. [CAUTION: It should be pointed out that, because of the potential seriousness of melioidosis in humans and inhalation is a method of acquisition, odour should only be a first-time observation and should not be used as a follow-up test (Ashdown 1992a). Laboratory infections have occurred (Sewell, 1995), and once it is suspected that B. pseudomallei is present, further manipulations should be carried out in a biological safety cabinet under Biohazard Level 3 conditions.]

Commercial identification systems recorded as good for identifying B. pseudomallei are the Microbact 24E (Thomas, 1983), API 20NE (BioMerieux-Vitek, Hazlewood, MO, USA) (Dance et al., 1989; Walsh and Wuthiekanun, 1996; Dance, 1998) and Titertek NF with the Minitek system (BBL Microbiology Systems, Cockeysville, MD, USA) good for final confirmation where other systems have given a presumptive identification of either B. pseudomallei or B. cepacia (Ashdown, 1992b).

Table 1. Distinguishing characteristics for B. pseudomallei and close relatives*


CharacteristicB. pseudomalleiB. malleiB. cepaciaB. stutzeriPs. aeruginosa
Oxidase + ± + + +
Growth on MacConkey agar + ± + + +
Fluorescence in UV light - - - - +
Motility + - + + +
Growth at 42°C + - ± ± +
Growth in KCN + ± - - +
Citrate utilization + - + or ± + +
Nitrate reduction + + ± + +
Gas from nitrate ± - - + ±
Lecithinase activity + ± + + -
Starch hydrolysis ± - - + -
Casein hydrolysis +   + - +
Gelatin hydrolysis + or ± ± or - ± - +
Urea hydrolysis§ ± ± + or ± ± +
Arginine dihydrolase + + - ± +
Acid from glucose + + + + +
Acid from lactose + ± + - -
Acid from maltose + - or ± + ± -
Acid from sucrose ± - or ± + - -
Acid from mannitol + ± + ± +
Acid from xylose + ± + + +
Acid from salicin - - + - -


*From Cowan (1974) and Gilligan and Whittier (1991).
+ = >85%; ± = 10-85%; - = <10%
§Results are method dependent

Table 2. Simplified identification scheme of Walsh and Wuthiekanun (1996)


CharacteristicB. pseudomalleiB. cepacia
Gram stain Gram-negative rods with bipolar staining As B. pseudomallei
Ashdown agar Typical colonies (see text) Brown/reddish coloration
O/n on Columbia agar with gentamicin and colistin (10 µg) disks Metallic sheen. Resistant to both antibiotics Yellow pigmented. Generally, but not always, resistant to both antibiotics
Arginine dihydrolase + -
Nitrate reduction + -
Lysine decarboxylase - +
ONPG - +
co-amoxyclav susceptible resistant


The pathogenesis of melioidosis is not well understood. Putative virulence factors include a thermolabile exotoxin, thought to suppress cellular immune functions (Yahya and Chui Lik, 1995), several hydrolytic enzymes, including proteases and phospholipases, at least one haemolysin and lipopolysaccharides/endotoxin (Rapaport et al., 1961; Ashdown and Koehler, 1990; Kanai and Kondo, 1994; Perry et al., 1995). Evidence suggests that B. pseudomallei can colonize mucosal tissue and that pili may be the means of adherence enabling this (Woods et al., 1999). Siderophores may be utilized (Yang et al., 1993). There is increasing evidence that a capsular polysaccharide is an important virulence determinant (Reckseidler et al., 2001). Resistance to complement-mediated bacteriolysis and ability to survive and possibly multiply in macrophages and neutrophils are believed to be important contributors to virulence (Egan and Gordon, 1996; Woods et al., 1999). At least in humans, it appears that infection can remain latent with reactivation occurring up to many years later, and this has been attributed to the ability of B. pseudomallei to persist intracellularly in a dormant state (Woods et al., 1999). This can provoke a state of delayed type hypersensitivity (Howe et al., 1971).

Interest in B. pseudomallei as a potential biological warfare or bioterrorism agent is promoting further research into better understanding of the pathogenesis of this bacterium.

Host Animals

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Animal nameContextLife stageSystem
Bos taurus (cattle)Domesticated host
Canis familiaris (dogs)Domesticated host
Capra hircus (goats)Domesticated host
Equus caballus (horses)Domesticated host; Experimental settings
Felis catus (cat)Domesticated host
GallusDomesticated host; Experimental settings
Gallus gallus domesticus (chickens)Domesticated host; Experimental settings
Oryctolagus cuniculus (rabbits)
Ovis aries (sheep)Domesticated host; Experimental settings
Sus scrofa (pigs)Domesticated host; Experimental settings


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Ashdown LR, 1979. An improved screening technique for isolation of Pseudomonas pseudomallei from clinical specimens. Pathology, 11:293-297.

Ashdown LR, 1992. Melioidosis and safety in the clinical laboratory. Journal of Hospital Infection, 21:301-306.

Ashdown LR, 1992. Rapid differentiation of Pseudomonas pseudomallei from Pseudomonas cepacia. Letters in Applied Microbiology, 14:203-205.

Ashdown LR; Koehler JM, 1990. Production of hemolysin and other extracellualar enzyme by clinical isolates of Pseudomonas pseudomallei. Journal of Clinical Microbiology, 28:2331-2334.

Cowan ST, 1974. Cowan and Steel's Manual for the Identification of Medical Bacteria, edition 2. London, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dance DAB, 1998. Melioidosis and Glanders. In: Collier L, Balows A, Sussman M, eds. Topley and Wilson's Microbiology and Microbial Infections, edition 9, Vol. 3, Bacterial Infections. London, UK: Arnold, 919-929.

Dance DAB; Wuthiekanun V; Naigowit P; White NJ, 1989. Identification of Pseudomonas pseudomallei in clinical practice: use of simple screening tests and API 20NE. Journal of Clinical Pathology, 42:645-648.

Egan AM; Gordon DL, 1996. Burkholderia pseudomallei activates complementand is ingested but not killed by polymorphonuclear leukocytes. Infection and Immunity, 12:4952-4959.

Gilligan PH; Whittier S, 1991. Burkholderia, Stenotrophomonas, Ralstonia, Brevundimonas, Comamonas, and Acidovorax. In: Murray PR, Baron EJ, Pfaller MA, Tenover FC, Yolken RH, eds. Manual of Clinical Microbiology, edition 7. Washington, DC, USA: ASM Press, 526-538.

Groves MG, 1979. Melioidosis. In: Steele JH, ed. CRC Handbook Series in Zoonoses, Vol. 1. Boca Raton, Florida, USA: CRC Press, 465-472.

Howe C; Sampath A; Spotnitz M, 1971. The pseudomallei group: a review. Journal of Infectious Diseases, 124:598-606.

Kanai K; Kondo E, 1994. Recent advances in biomedical sciences of Burkholderia psudomallei. Japanese Journal of Medical Science and Biology, 47:1-45.

OIE Handistatus, 2002. World Animal Health Publication and Handistatus II (dataset for 2001). Paris, France: Office International des Epizooties.

OIE Handistatus, 2003. World Animal Health Publication and Handistatus II (dataset for 2002). Paris, France: Office International des Epizooties.

OIE Handistatus, 2004. World Animal Health Publication and Handistatus II (data set for 2003). Paris, France: Office International des Epizooties.

OIE Handistatus, 2005. World Animal Health Publication and Handistatus II (data set for 2004). Paris, France: Office International des Epizooties.

Perry MB; MacLean LL; Schollaardt T; Bryan LE; Ho M, 1995. Structural characterization of the lipopolysaccharide O antigens of Burkholderia pseudomallei. Infection and Immunity, 63:3348-3352.

Pitt TL, 1990. Pseudomonas.. Topley & Wilson's Principles of bacteriology, virology and immunity. Volume 2. Systematic bacteriology., 255-273; many ref.

Rapaport FT; Millar JW; Ruch J, 1961. Endotoxic properties of Pseudomonas pseudomallei. Archives of Pathology, 71:429-436.

Reckseidler SL; DeShazer D; Sokol PA; Woods DE, 2001. Detection of bacterial viulence genes by subtractive hybridizaton: identification of capsular polysaccharide of Burkholderia pseudomallei as a major virulence determinant. Infection and Immunity, 69:34-44.

Sewell DL, 1995. Laboratory-associated infections and biosafety. Clinical Microbiology Reviews, 8(3):389-405; 158 ref.

Thomas AD, 1983. Evaluation of the API 20E and Microbact 24E systems for the identification of Pseudomonas pseudomallei. Veterinary Microbiology, 8:611-615.

Walsh AL; Wuthiekanun MD; Smith Y; Suputtamongko Y; White NJ, 1995. Selective broth for the isolation of Pseudomonas pseudomallei from clinical samples. Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 89:124.

Walsh AL; Wuthiekanun V, 1996. The laboratory diagnosis of melioidosis. British Journal of Biomedical Science 53:249-253.

Woods DE; DeShazer D; Moore RA; Brett PJ; Burtnick MN; Reckseidler SL; Senkiw MD, 1999. Current studies on the pathogenesis of melioidosis. Microbes and Infection, 2:157-162.

Yahya MD; Chui Lik SY, 1995. Suppression of delayed-type hypersensitivity in mice by Burkholderia pseudomallei. Malaysian Applied Biology, 24:105-107.

Yang H; Kooi CD; Sokol PA, 1993. Ability of Pseudomonas pseudomallei malleobactin to acquire transferrin-bound, lactoferrin-bound, and cell-derived iron. Infection and Immunity, 61:656-662.

Distribution References

CABI, Undated. CABI Compendium: Status inferred from regional distribution. Wallingford, UK: CABI

Jilani M S A, Robayet J A M, Mohiuddin M, Hasan M R, Ahsan C R, Haq J A, 2016. Burkholderia pseudomallei: its detection in soil and seroprevalence in Bangladesh. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. 10 (1), e0004301. DOI:10.1371/journal.pntd.0004301

OIE Handistatus, 2005. World Animal Health Publication and Handistatus II (dataset for 2004)., Paris, France: Office International des Epizooties.

Distribution Maps

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