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Flesh-eating bacteria epidemic ‘exploding’

There is a “worsening epidemic” of the Bairnsdale ulcer in Victoria.
There is a “worsening epidemic” of the Bairnsdale ulcer in Victoria.

WARNING: Graphic images

THE most frightening thing about a flesh-eating bacteria multiplying at a rapid rate in parts of Australia is that doctors don't know how to prevent it.

A startling report in the Medical Journal Of Australia on Monday declared the need for an "urgent scientific response" to an infection disease known by many names but most commonly the Bainsdale ulcer. It's also often referred to as the Buruli ulcer or the Daintree ulcer because it occurs in parts of north Queensland.

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.

The bacteria that causes the ulcers attaches to its host and causes "severe destructive lesions of skin and soft tissue, resulting in significant morbidity", the report states.

"All age groups, including young children, are affected, and the emotional and psychological impact on patients and their carers is substantial."

The report warns of the rapid increase of cases of the flesh-eating disease. Picture: Medical Journal of Australia
The report warns of the rapid increase of cases of the flesh-eating disease. Picture: Medical Journal of Australia

Infectious diseases specialist Daniel O'Brien told Fairfax that Victoria is in the middle of an "exploding epidemic".

"It's a pretty frightening explosion in case numbers," Dr O'Brien, an associate professor from the University of Melbourne, said.

"The time to wait is gone. We need to take action."

The disease is believed to spread through mosquitoes, or through the faeces of possums that have been bitten by mosquitoes.

It starts out looking like a normal mosquito bite but deep wounds soon develop and the flesh begins to be eaten away.

In some severe cases, it can lead to limbs being amputated.

News.com.au previously reported on the worsening epidemic following reports it had spread into Melbourne suburbs including Bentleigh, Hampton and Cheltenham.

Monday's report reveals about 2000 cases are reported each year and that "most cases are reported from temperate ... Victoria" where "the community is facing a worsening epidemic, defined by cases rapidly increasingly in number, becoming more severe in nature and occurring in new geographic regions".

A little boy with the flesh-eating bug on his nose.
A little boy with the flesh-eating bug on his nose.

The report declares six urgent questions need to be answered. The authors say it is yet to be determined what the natural source of the ulcer is, how it is transmitted to humans, what role possums play and why the disease is increasing in Victoria.

"As a community, we are facing a rapidly worsening epidemic of a severe disease without knowing how to prevent it," the report concludes.

"We therefore need an urgent response based on robust scientific knowledge acquired by a thorough and exhaustive examination of the environment, local fauna, human behaviour and characteristics, and the interactions between them.

"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.

"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."

 

 

A Victorian woman suffered a large lesion on her achilles from the Bairnsdale ulcer.
A Victorian woman suffered a large lesion on her achilles from the Bairnsdale ulcer.

 

A Victorian woman suffered a large lesion on her achilles from the Bairnsdale ulcer.
A Victorian woman suffered a large lesion on her achilles from the Bairnsdale ulcer.

Topics:  bacteria editors picks medical journal of australia