Skin disease detected in Melbourne’s northern suburbs – buruli ulcer

GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING: Mysterious flesh-eating ulcer outbreak hits suburbs of a major city – as health chiefs reveal how it’s spreading from possums to humans

  • Health authorities issue warning over spread of skin infection across Melbourne
  • ‘Buruli ulcer’ is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium ulcerans (M. ulcerans)
  • Cases detected in city’s northern suburbs such as Pascoe Vale and Strathmore
  • The risk of acquiring the disease in these areas has been considered to be low
  • Source of bacteria for previous cases was linked to the faeces of possums
  • Mosquito’s are noted to also play a role in the transmission of the disease

A mysterious flesh-eating ulcer is spreading through parts of melbournewith authorities releasing a health warning that it could be passing from possums to humans via mosquito bites.

Buruli ulcers, which create a red, oozing cavity inside a painful circle of inflamed skin, are an infection caused by bacteria traced back to possums.

Several cases of the disease known as the ‘Buruli’ ulcer have been detected in Pascoe Vale South and Strathmore, in the city’s northern suburbs.

This follows previous cases last year that had occurred across inner-Melbourne areas including Essendon, Moonee Ponds and Brunswick West.

Several cases of the disease known as the ‘Buruli’ ulcer (pictured) have been detected in Pascoe Vale South and Strathmore, in the city’s northern suburbs

Associate Professor Deborah Friedman (pictured) explained that the Buruli ulcer is a skin infection caused by the bacterium mycobacterium ulcerans - which can come from mosquito bites and possum faeces

Associate Professor Deborah Friedman (pictured) explained that the Buruli ulcer is a skin infection caused by the bacterium mycobacterium ulcerans – which can come from mosquito bites and possum faeces

Despite the warning, Ms Freidman believes the risk of acquiring the ulcer in these areas is low, but they have been flagged as potential areas of concern.

Areas such as Rye, Sorrento, Blairgowrie and Tootgarook are the highest risk areas of transmission, according to Victorian health chiefs.

Deborah Friedman, Victoria’s deputy chief health officer for communicable disease, said that genetic analysis of the bacteria showed it came from a common source – possums.

‘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,’ Ms Friedman noted.

It’s also claimed that the disease is not transmissible from person to person and there is no evidence of transmission from possums directly to humans.

There is increasing evidence that mosquitoes play a role in transmission, so reducing mosquito breeding sites and avoiding mosquito bites are both important prevention measures.

The lesions (pictured) usually present as a slowly developing painless nodule or papule which can initially be mistaken for an insect bite

The lesions (pictured) usually present as a slowly developing painless nodule or papule which can initially be mistaken for an insect bite

The lesions usually present as a slowly developing painless nodule or papule which can initially be mistaken for an insect bite.

They can progress over weeks to a destructive skin ulcer which is known as Buruli or Bairnsdale ulcer.

Ms Friedman said ‘early diagnosis is critical to prevent skin and tissue loss.’

It’s believed everyone can be susceptible to this infection, however Buruli ulcer detections are highest in people aged 60 and over.

The incubation period has been estimated to vary between four weeks to nine months, and across Victoria the case reporting peaks between June and November each year.

Public health laboratory testing for Buruli ulcer is free for patients.

A handling fee may apply for private pathology companies.

Buruli ulcer must be notified to the Department of Health within five days of diagnosis.

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