Australia seeks help in halting flesh-eating Buruli ulcer 'epidemic'

Mornington Peninsula one of the two adjacent temperate peninsulas in Victoria in which the bulk of Buruli ulcers appear

Mornington Peninsula one of the two adjacent temperate peninsulas in Victoria in which the bulk of Buruli ulcers appear

The Buruli ulcer is a disease that causes "severe destructive lesions of skin and soft tissue", with the potential of causing long-term disability.

An epidemic of the flesh-eating bacteria infection Buruli ulcers is worsening in Australia, and as infection rates continue to rise, experts are struggling to pinpoint the cause.

"In 2016, there were 182 new cases - the highest ever reported by 72 per cent". But even this number was dwarfed by a further increase of 51% from November 2016 to the same month a year later.

Cases are also becoming more severe and occurring in new areas, but efforts to control the outbreak have been thwarted because it's not known how humans become infected, a study published in The Medical Journal of Australia says.

Buruli ulcer itself is not a new disease.

"It is hard to prevent a disease when it is not known how infection is acquired", lead author and associate professor Daniel O'Brien, an infectious diseases consultant, wrote.

Australia has seen an increasing number of cases being reported since 2013, according to WHO.

Though some deaths from the disease have been reported, most cases are not life-threatening, according to Garchitorena. The condition is most common in regions with tropical, subtropical and temperate climates.

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. Current antibiotic treatments only prevent surgery in 40% of patients, said Dr. Zlatko Kopecki, vice-president of the Australasian Wound & Tissue Repair Society.

The demographic affects varies considerable across affected regions, with an estimated 48% of those affected in Africa under the age of 15, while just 10% affected are under that age in Australia.

Most cases are occurring on the Mornington and Bellarine peninsulas, but there is a risk the "nasty disease" could spread to other coastal areas, possibly through possum faeces, Dr Sutton said.

They are also baffled as to why most of the Australian infections have been in the state of Victoria, while New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania have been mostly spared. However, one expert hypothesis is that the infection is spread by mosquitoes and possums.

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