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Flesh-eating bacteria epidemic

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    Posted: October 20 2018 at 12:40am
Flesh-eating bacteria epidemic worsens as dozens of new cases see last year's record surpassed already - and experts fear there could be 400 infections by January

    Cases of flesh-eating bacteria have already surpassed last year's record
    49 new cases were diagnosed in the past four weeks and is expected to rise
    Medical experts fear the number of cases will reach 400 by the end of the year
    Last year, there were 277 cases of Buruli ulcer south of Melbourne
    Buruli ulcer is a skin infection that can develop into a destructive skin ulcer

By Bianca Bongato For Daily Mail Australia

Published: 03:49, 20 October 2018 | Updated: 04:00, 20 October 2018

A flesh-eating bacteria epidemic has worsened, and experts fear there could be up to 400 infections by January.

The record number of 277 cases of Buruli ulcer recorded last year in the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne, has already been surpassed in 2018, with 49 new cases diagnosed in the past four weeks alone.

Medical experts fear the number of ulcer cases will reach up to 400 by January 2019, according to data from Victoria's Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Meanwhile in Queensland, a separate outbreak has seen five cases reported near Cairns, and mosquitoes found carrying the bacteria.

Buruli ulcer is a skin infection that can develop into a destructive skin ulcer. It initially appears as a painless nodule or papule.

In extreme cases, Buruli ulcer can cause permanent disfigurement.

The DHHS has warned locals to take necessary precautions and protect themselves from mosquito bites, which is suspected to be the cause of the disease's spread.

Safety measures include wearing gloves, long sleeved shirts and trousers when going outside for extended periods of time.

People are also advised to wear insect repellent, wash and cover scratches, and visit the doctor immediately if skin lesions are found on the body.

Aside from mosquitoes, microbiologist Tim Stinear also identified possums as potential carriers that spread the disease.


    It's a skin infection caused by a bacteria known as Mycobacterium ulcerans

    The organism belongs to the family of bacteria that causes tuberculosis and leprosy

     It typically causes skin ulcers, otherwise known as Buruli ulcer

     It is also known as Bairnsdale or Daintree ulcer

     It can affect the bone and can lead to permanent disfigurement and long-term disability


     According to WHO, at least 33 countries, including Australia, with tropical, subtropical and temperate climates have reported Buruli ulcer, but mainly in west and central Africa


     About 2000 cases are reported worldwide each year

     All age groups, including young children, can be infected


    The exact method remains unclear, but the disease is often associated with wetlands, especially stagnant water

     Evidence indicates it can not be transmitted from person to person

     Insects, such as mosquitoes, have been shown to contain the bacteria and they may play a role in transmission

     Use of repellent and mosquito nets have been linked to a reduction in occurrence


     The first sign of Buruli ulcer is usually a painless, non-tender blister-like nodule on the skin, often thought to be an insect bite

     A lesion may occur anywhere on the body but is most common on the limbs

     After one to two months, the nodule may begin to erode, forming a characteristic ulcer


     In Australia and Japan, most lesions are detected early and diagnosed as a Category 1

     Treatment involves a combination of antibiotics, depending on the patient

     Many sufferers require plastic surgery

Source: AAP - Health Victoria, World Health Organisation, Medical Journal of Australia

'Their precise role in transmission we’re still trying to work out, but they are definitely boosting the number of bacteria in the environment,' he said.

'We only see human disease in areas where possum are carrying the bacteria'.

Medical experts and researchers are also preparing several research projects in order to understand the disease.

A questionnaire is being prepared in order to gather information about the locals' day-to-day activities and habits, which could help in identifying how the disease has spread, according to The Australian.

'We’re trying to establish the risk factors for catching the disease,' Geelong Barwon Health Associate Professor Daniel O'Brien told The Australian.

'Once you know the risk factors, you can design a public health intervention around reducing those risk factors and therefore reduce the disease'.

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