Scientists in Australia warn of 'rapidly worsening epidemic' of flesh-eating ulcer

Maricruz Casares
Abril 16, 2018

A record 275 new infections were recorded the state past year, marking a 51% increase on 2016. If this flesh-eating microbe doesn't sound at all pleasant, then you'd be right, which is why medical professionals are anxious about a new, unexplained outbreak in part of Australia.

"In 2016, there were 182 new cases - the highest ever reported by 72 per cent". Most cases in Africa are associated with living near marshes and other aquatic environments. "Recent evidence indicates that human to human transmission does not occur, although cases are commonly clustered among families", the report added.

Infections have also become more severe and spread to new areas.

"It is hard to prevent a disease when it is not known how infection is acquired", write the authors, led by Dr. Daniel O'Brien, an associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Melbourne.

"Our hypothesis is really that this is a disease of possums", said Paul Johnson, a Victoria-based Buruli ulcer expert, The Guardian reported.

According to World Health Organization, treatment consists of a combination of antibiotics and complementary treatments.

Buruli ulcer is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium ulcerans and results in severe destructive lesions of skin and soft tissue, the paper states.

The bacterium that causes the disease belongs to the same family of organisms that cause tuberculosis and leprosy. "It starts generally with a small nodule, but over time it opens up and creates an ulcer".

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Monday's report reveals about 2000 cases are reported each year and that "most cases are reported from temperate".

In 2017, 2206 cases were reported globally, compared to 1920 cases in 2016, with Australia and Nigeria reporting the most cases.

But doctors don't know how the disease is spread, nor how to prevent it. If not treated properly, it can cause irreversible deformity or long-term functional disability. Different combinations of antibiotics are given to the patient to have it for 8 weeks.

All age groups, including children, can be affected by the ulcer.

The cause of the spike in Australia remains a mystery, the researchers state, particularly in the state of Victoria, home to one of the country's biggest cities, Melbourne.

"Lesions most commonly occur on exposed body areas, suggesting that bites, environmental contamination or trauma may play a role in infection, and that clothing may protect against disease".

However, the study notes that the risk of infection "appears to be seasonal, with an increased risk in the warmer months". "These antibiotics have severe side effects in up to one-quarter of patients, and many people also require reparative plastic surgery, sometimes with prolonged hospital admissions", O'Brien explained.

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