Flesh-eating bug, Buruli ulcer, sparks Melbourne alert

The Buruli ulcer on this ankle was the size of a 50-cent coin before it started to heal.

The Buruli ulcer on this ankle was the size of a 50-cent coin before it started to heal. Photo: ABC

WARNING: Images may be upsetting to some readers

A mysterious flesh-eating bug has spread to non-coastal Melbourne suburbs, prompting a fresh health alert.

Multiple cases of Buruli ulcer, commonly found in stagnant water, have been identified in Essendon, Moonee Ponds and Brunswick West.

Chief health officer Brett Sutton said the new cases meant Melbourne’s inner north was now an area of interest.

“This is the first non-coastal area in Victoria to be recognised as a potential area of risk,” he said.

“However, the risk of transmission in these areas is considered low.”

All the identified cases had travelled to known Buruli ulcer risk areas which include Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula, Bellarine Peninsula, south-east bayside suburbs and East Gippsland.

But Professor Sutton said genetic analysis of the bacteria from each person “suggests a common source of infection in the area”.

“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,” he said.

“The disease is not transmissible from person to person and there is no evidence of transmission from possums directly to humans.”

buruli ulcer

A case of Buruli ulcer on the knee of an 11-year-old Australian boy. Photo: Medical Journal of Australia

The ulcer is commonly found in west or central Africa and usually associated with stagnant water.

It can have devastating impacts on sufferers, including long-term disability and deformity.

Evidence has increasingly linked mosquitoes to the disease’s transmission and it can take anywhere from four weeks to nine months after exposure for a person to display symptoms, which may start as a red, raised area.


Topics: buruli ulcer
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