Alarm over flesh-eating ulcer cases in Australia

September 21, 2017

The spread of a flesh-eating bacterial condition in Australia sparked calls Thursday for more government-funded research into the disease, which is normally limited to developing countries.

Buruli ulcer, a leprosy-like disease that rots flesh, is usually found in parts of Africa and was named after the Ugandan village where it was discovered.

It was first diagnosed in Australia's Victoria state in the 1930s and a growing number of cases have hit Bellarine Peninsula south of Melbourne.

"It seems to us that it is an outbreak in (native marsupial) possums in (Bellarine), connecting to humans directly or indirectly through biting insects," Paul Johnson of Melbourne's Austin Hospital told AFP.

Johnson said the disease has crossed the bay that separates Bellarine from adjacent Mornington Peninsula and warned "the number of cases are continuing to increase".

Buruli ulcer has previously been reported in the states of Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales, as well as the Northern Territory.

In Victoria, there have been 159 cases this year, compared to 102 for the same period in 2016, the state's department said.

One victim, 13-year-old Mornington Peninsula girl Ella Crofts, set up an online petition urging more funding for research.

"I started feeling pain in my knee in early April," she said on the petition page.

"Slowly it got worse, with my knee becoming swollen and inflamed, until one day, the skin started breaking down."

Crofts said she was contacted by federal Health Minister Greg Hunt late Wednesday, who promised the government would "support further research" into the disease.

Victoria health officials said in a statement they were collecting the faeces of possums to find out if they contained the bacterium that causes the ulcer.

World Health Organisation data showed 2,037 new cases reported from 13 nations in 2015, with the majority in West and Central Africa, including Benin, Cameroon and Ghana.

There is no way to prevent the and its exact mode of transmission is still unknown, the UN body said.

Johnson, an infectious diseases specialist, said it was a "great mystery as to why you get these pockets scattered so unevenly throughout the world".

"We don't really know why it came here and we don't know why it likes some environments," he said, adding that it could be treated with a combination of surgery and antibiotics.

Explore further: Breakthrough finding brings cure for flesh-eating skin disease one step closer

Related Stories

Breakthrough finding brings cure for flesh-eating skin disease one step closer

July 16, 2015
Breakthrough finding brings cure for flesh-eating skin disease one step closer

What is tularemia and can I catch it from a possum?

June 27, 2017
Tularemia is a disease that affects humans and other animals. It is caused by infection with the bacterium Francisella tularensis and is commonly spread by biting insects or by direct contact with an infected animal.

How land use affects the spread of disease

September 9, 2016
Protecting the landscape may also help protect people from some infectious diseases, according to Erica Smithwick, associate professor of geography. Smithwick and her colleagues have been investigating how land use has affected ...

Climate change could drive rise in debilitating disease

August 7, 2014
A disease prevalent in developing countries could be spread by the changes in rainfall patterns according to a new study.

Recommended for you

A new approach to developing a vaccine against vivax malaria

September 21, 2018
A novel study reports an innovative approach for developing a vaccine against Plasmodium vivax, the most prevalent human malaria parasite outside sub-Saharan Africa. The study led by Hernando A. del Portillo and Carmen Fernandez-Becerra, ...

Pre-clinical success for a universal flu vaccine offers hope for third generation approach

September 21, 2018
Researchers from the University of Oxford's Department of Zoology have demonstrated pre-clinical success for a universal flu vaccine in a new paper published in Nature Communications.

Researchers define possible molecular pathway for neurodegeneration in prion diseases

September 21, 2018
A new study has shed light on the mechanisms underlying the progression of prion diseases and identified a potential target for treatment.

Fighting a deadly parasite: Scientists devise a method to store Cryptosporidium, aiding vaccine research efforts

September 21, 2018
In May, just before one of the hottest summers on record, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning about diseases lurking in recreational water facilities like swimming pools and water playgrounds. ...

Scientists make significant discovery in the fight against drug-resistant tuberculosis

September 20, 2018
A team of scientists have identified a naturally occurring antibiotic that may help in the fight against drug-resistant Tuberculosis.

Anti-cancer drugs may hold key to overcoming antimalarial drug resistance

September 20, 2018
Scientists have found a way to boost the efficacy of the world's most powerful antimalarial drug with the help of chemotherapy medicines, according to new research published in the journal Nature Communications.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.