Melioidosis, caused by the gram-negative saprophyte Burkholderia pseudomallei, is a disease of public health importance in southeast Asia and northern Australia that is associated with high case-fatality rates in animals and humans. It has the potential for epidemic spread to areas where it is not endemic, and sporadic case reports elsewhere in the world suggest that as-yet-unrecognized foci of infection may exist. Environmental determinants of this infection, apart from a close association with rainfall, are yet to be elucidated. The sequencing of the genome of a strain of B. pseudomallei has recently been completed and will help in the further identification of virulence factors. The presence of specific risk factors for infection, such as diabetes, suggests that functional neutrophil defects are important in the pathogenesis of melioidosis; other studies have defined virulence factors (including a type III secretion system) that allow evasion of killing mechanisms by phagocytes. There is a possible role for cell-mediated immunity, but repeated environmental exposure does not elicit protective humoral or cellular immunity. A vaccine is under development, but economic constraints may make vaccination an unrealistic option for many regions of endemicity. Disease manifestations are protean, and no inexpensive, practical, and accurate rapid diagnostic tests are commercially available; diagnosis relies on culture of the organism. Despite the introduction of ceftazidime- and carbapenem-based intravenous treatments, melioidosis is still associated with a significant mortality attributable to severe sepsis and its complications. A long course of oral eradication therapy is required to prevent relapse. Studies exploring the role of preventative measures, earlier clinical identification, and better management of severe sepsis are required to reduce the burden of this disease.