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

Small-scale poultry farming could mean big problem in developing countries

December 16, 2018
Small-scale farming in developing countries provides those in rural communities with income and access to protein, but it may have a large impact on antibiotic resistance, according to a new University of Michigan study.

RNA processing and antiviral immunity

December 14, 2018
The RIG-I like receptors (RLRs) are intracellular enzyme sentries that detect viral infection and initiate a first line of antiviral defense. The cellular molecules that activate RLRs in vivo are not clear.

Faster test for Ebola shows promising results in field trials

December 13, 2018
A team of researchers with members from the U.S., Senegal and Guinea, in cooperation with Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD), has developed a faster test for the Ebola virus than those currently in use. In their paper published ...

Urbanisation and air travel leading to growing risk of pandemic

December 13, 2018
Increased arrivals by air and urbanisation are the two main factors leading to a growing vulnerability to pandemics in our cities, a University of Sydney research team has found.

Drug targets for Ebola, Dengue, and Zika viruses found in lab study

December 13, 2018
No drugs are currently available to treat Ebola, Dengue, or Zika viruses, which infect millions of people every year and result in severe illness, birth defects, and even death. New research from the Gladstone Institutes ...

Researchers discover new interactions between Ebola virus and human proteins

December 13, 2018
Several new connections have been discovered between the proteins of the Ebola virus and human host cells, a finding that provides insight on ways to prevent the deadly Ebola virus from reproducing and could lead to novel ...

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.