Not enough is being done about a “serious epidemic” of gruesome flesh-eating ulcers that have affected hundreds of people in parts of regional Victoria, health experts have warned.
- Cases of flesh eating ulcers up 400 per cent in four years, expert says
- Doctors warn condition is poorly understood and more funds are needed for research
- Bacteria found along Victoria’s Bellarine and Mornington peninsulas
In today’s Medical Journal of Australia, infectious diseases expert Daniel O’Brien writes that cases of the Buruli ulcer are on the rise and urgent government funding is needed combat it.
WARNING: This story contains a graphic image.
Professor O’Brien, the executive director of infectious diseases at Barwon Health, said the bacterial infection usually started on the arm or leg as a non-healing sore that slowly enlarged.
“It can really become very severe and eats away at the skin and soft tissue … leading to, often, long-term cosmetic deformities, even mobility issues and occasionally it’s actually associated with death,” he said.
“So it’s actually really a serious infection.
“If you look at the cases notified in Victoria in the last four years its gone up by more than 400 per cent.”
The bacteria is found along Victoria’s coastal areas, including the Bellarine and Mornington peninsulas.
It is thought mosquitoes could be spreading the mycobacterium ulcerans (MU) bacteria after coming into contact with infected possums.
Professor O’Brien is among a group of researchers who have called for more funding to better understand why it is spreading.
Mosquitoes could be spreading the bacteria after coming into contact with infected possums. (Flickr: peterhut)
“We actually don’t know for sure — we have some clues about what may be the causes, but nobody really knows why it’s located here, why it moves into new areas, and in fact how we catch it,” he said.
“We’re in the midst of a serious epidemic. It’s very difficult to prevent it and address it with effective public health interventions if we don’t know that really basic scientific information.
“It’s a complex area and we need a significant amount of funding to get to the bottom of it.”
Boy, 11, requires plastic surgery after getting ulcer
Professor O’Brien said people of all ages were being affected.
A boy who went to the Mornington Peninsula needed plastic surgery after a severe lesion formed. (Medical Journal of Australia)
“I don’t think you’d meet any patient that doesn’t say this has had a significant impact on their life,” he said.
One 11-year-old boy who visited the Mornington Peninsula developed a severe lesion on his knee that required plastic surgery.
It took the boy six months to heal. He was unable to play sport and had to stay home from school.
Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, said more than $1 million had been spent on researching the ulcer.
He said work had been done to raise awareness of the bacteria with GPs, and a prevention campaign had been run to warn people about mosquitoes in affected areas.
“Certainly it’s a serious illness, I’m acutely aware of the rising cases,” he said.
“Our attention’s absolutely on it and we’re well aware of what an issue it is.”