Monday, 20 August, 2018


Scientists in Australia warn of 'rapidly worsening epidemic' of flesh-eating ulcer

Flesh eating ulcers on rise in Australia Representational image
Bennie Garza | 17 April, 2018, 10:52

Researchers are baffled as to why the densely populated state is affected, and not other Australian states.

The Buruli ulcer is a rare tropical disease caused by bacteria related to leprosy and tuberculosis. Infections have also become more severe and spread to new areas. In 2016, there were 182 new cases, the highest ever reported.

The disease is more commonly found in rural West Africa, Central Africa, New Guinea, Latin America and tropical regions of Asia.

The report includes graphic images of the ulcer eating away at the flesh of an 11-year-old boy from the Mornington Peninsula, the Victorian bayside region where confirmed infections are up 400 per cent in the last four years.

Infectious diseases specialist Daniel O'Brien told Fairfax that Victoria is in the middle of an "exploding epidemic". Different combinations of antibiotics are given to the patient to have it for 8 weeks.

Patients may also need plastic surgery and frequent hospital admissions.

The Medical Journal of Australia report says it costs an estimated $14,000 per patient to treat, with an estimated cost to Victoria in 2016 of $2,548,000.

Although the disease has been acknowledged to exist in the state since 1948, very little progress has been made in curtailing the bacterium simply because we actually know very little about it. It is not clear how it is transmitted exactly, although it is often associated with wetlands and stagnant water.

"It is hard to prevent a disease when it is not known how infection is acquired", write the authors, led by Dr. Daniel O'Brien, an associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Melbourne. "But what is it about the area that contains it, and what happens to you that means you pick the disease up from that area?" If this flesh-eating microbe doesn't sound at all pleasant, then you'd be right, which is why medical professionals are anxious about a new, unexplained outbreak in part of Australia.

"It is only when we are armed with this critical knowledge that we can hope to halt the devastating impact of this disease through the design and implementation of effective public health interventions".

Researchers are now calling on governments to inject funding to find out why the "rapidly worsening" disease is growing.

"The time to act is now, and we advocate for local, regional and national governments to urgently commit to funding the research needed to stop Buruli ulcer". After up to a couple of months, the nodule begins to erode and form an ulcer.

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