Flesh-eating disease alert in Australia as bug found in possum poo leaves victims with oozing ulcers
A FLESH-eating skin disease has been discovered in a non-coastal region of Australia for the first time.
Health authorities have issued an alert after several cases of the debilitating Buruli ulcer, linked to possum poo, were found in suburbs of Melbourne.
The infections were identified in the suburbs of Essendon, Moonee Ponds and Brunswick West, Victoria's Department of Health confirmed yesterday.
It marks the first time that cases have been associated with a non-coastal area of Victoria state – though health authorities stressed the risk of infection remains low.
The skin infection is caused by bacterium that leads to lesions on the skin, which can easily be mistaken for an insect bite.
The lesion, which is most commonly found on limbs, can grow into a destructive skin ulcer over time – causing large open wounds.
If left untreated, severe cases of the Buruli ulcer can cause permanent disfigurement and long-term disability.
It is believed to spread through mosquitoes, or through the faeces of possums that have been bitten by mosquitoes.
Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton today said genetic analysis of bacteria from each case in Melbourne showed “a common source of infection”.
He added: “The potential source of M. ulcerans in Melbourne's inner north has not been established, although the bacteria were isolated from the faeces of a local possum.
“The disease is not transmissible from person to person and there is no evidence of transmission from possums directly to humans.”
What is the Buruli ulcer?
- The Buruli ulcer is a debilitating infection that is typically found in parts of Africa and more rarely in Australia.
- It is caused by by the bacteria Mycobacterium ulcerans and leads to lesions developing on the limbs, which can easily be mistaken for an insect bite.
- The bacteria often attacks the skin and bone, and can lead to permanent disfigurement and disability if left untreated.
- It is believed to spread through mosquitoes, or through the faeces of possums that have been bitten by mosquitoes.
- At least 33 countries around the world have reported cases of the disease.
- The WHO recommends treating the ulcer with a combination of antibiotics for eight weeks.
Professor Tim Stinear, from the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, told ABC that the bug was very treatable as long as patients were diagnosed early.
He said: “If people present with a small mosquito bite that doesn't look quite right there's a very good diagnostic test.
“If you're given the right antibiotics then there's a really good clinical outcome for people.”
The Buruli ulcer is commonly found in West or Central Africa and is associated with stagnant water.
At least 33 countries around the world have reported cases of the disease, with a surge in cases in Australia since 2013, according to the World Health Organisation.
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