A severe flesh-eating ulce, once rare in Australia, is spreading and now assuming “epidemic” proportions in regions of Victoria a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia on Monday warns.
Not only is the number of Buruli Ucler infections spiking in Australia, the cases are becoming more severe and are occurring in new areas the study says.
In Victoria the number of infections rose from 182 in 2016 to 275 last year.
The lead author of the study, an Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne and an infectious diseases expert, Daniel O’Brian, is calling for urgent government funding to enable research into the disease.
“It is difficult to prevent a disease when it is not known how infection is acquired,” the professor says.
The environmental reservoir of the disease and how it spreads are largely unknown. Aquatic insects, animals such as koalas and possums and trauma are thought to be involved
The impact of Buruli Ulcers – which are caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans bacteria – can be severe and includes long-term disability, cosmetic deformity, surgery to remove skin and even amputation. Deaths have occurred but are rare.
The first sign of infection is usually a painless lump on the skin often dismissed as an insect bite.
The slow-moving infection then burrows into the layer of fat between the skin and the lining that covers the muscles.
It usually takes hold in the latter and spreads sideways and through the body, destroying tissue along the way before erupting through the skin in the form of an ulcer.
When the ulcer erupts the pain can be severe.
If picked up early, the infection usually responds well to a two month-course of antibiotics, but the side effects can be severe.
WARNING GRAPHIC IMAGE AT THE END OF THIS REPORT
THE GLOBAL SPREAD OF BURULI ULCER INFECTIONS
WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION