A FLESH and bone-eating disease is spreading in Australia, experts warn.
Some 238 cases of Buruli ulcer have already been spotted in Victoria this year as of October 2, up 15 per cent on the 207 recorded by the same time in 2022.
The bacterial infection causes weeping sores and recent research suggests mosquitoes and possums might be playing a role in the swell of cases, experts said.
Dr Clare Looker, chief health officer for Victoria, said: “Case numbers so far this year are higher compared to previous years.
“The disease is spreading geographically across Victoria and is no longer restricted to specific coastal locations.
“Most recently, there has been an increase in cases linked to several suburbs in Greater Geelong and the inner north and west of Melbourne.”
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Buruli ulcer is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium ulcerans, which is usually found in warm climates by the coast.
The disease has been reported in 33 countries around the world, including in Australasia, the Pacific, Africa and South America, according to the World Health Organization.
The bacteria produce a toxin that slowly breaks down the skin and can even damage bone.
Infections usually appear as a small, painless bump that can look like an insect bite.
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Over time, this can develop into an ulcer and lesions as large as 15cm.
Antibiotics are usually given as treatment and it is vital cases are spotted early to prevent the destructive effects of the infection.
Dr Looker said cases have been spotted in suburbs in Geelong including Belmont, Highton, Newtown, Wandana Heights, Grovedale and Marshall.
Essendon, Moonee Ponds, Brunswick West, Pascoe Vale South and Strathmore in Melbourne have all seen infections as well.
While experts are not sure what spreads the disease, studies have found traces of the bacteria in possum poo.
Residents should mosquito proof their homes and try to avoid mosquito bites by wearing DEET to reduce their risk, Dr Looker said.
The 3 early signs of Buruli ulcer
According to the World Health Organization, early signs of Buruli ulcer include:
- A painless swelling (nodule)
- A large painless area of induration (plaque)
- A diffuse painless swelling of the legs, arms or face (oedema)
The disease can progress without causing pain or a fever.
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Without treatment or sometimes during antibiotics treatment, the nodule, plaque or oedema will ulcerate within four weeks.
Bone is occasionally affected, causing deformities.
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