Flesh-eating bacteria epidemic continues to grow in Australia

The Buruli ulcer is usually associated with wetlands especially slow moving and stagnant waters

The Buruli ulcer is usually associated with wetlands especially slow moving and stagnant waters

In a joint report, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and health care provider Barwon Health detailed the rise of the Buruli ulcer in Australia, reports Xinhua news agency.

The report includes graphic images of the ulcer eating away at the flesh of an 11-year-old boy from the Mornington Peninsula, the Victorian bayside region where confirmed infections are up 400 per cent in the last four years.

The disease is believed to spread through mosquitoes, or through the faeces of possums that have been bitten by mosquitoes.

"It is hard to prevent a disease when it is not known how infection is acquired", the experts said in the journal article. Every year, around 2,000 new cases of the disease are diagnosed, which affects all age groups and can lead to long-term disability, cosmetic deformity, and severe emotional and psychological trauma.

But most are from Victoria where there's a worsening epidemic, including 182 new cases in 2016, 275 in 2017 and 30 so far in 2018.

Buruli ulcer itself is not a new disease.

Once it infects its host, M. ulcerans - belonging to the same genus as leprosy and tuberculosis - produces a unique toxin which both causes tissue damage and inhibits the immune system's ability to deal with it.

A mysterious and "nasty" flesh-eating bug is spreading at unprecedented levels in Victoria, and experts don't know how to stop it.

"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. The authors say it is yet to be determined what the natural source of the ulcer is, how it is transmitted to humans, what role possums play and why the disease is increasing in Victoria. A third theory is that it lives in contaminated water or soil and enters humans when they breathe in contaminated spray or dust, or it enters the skin through cuts and scrapes.

The report declares six urgent questions need to be answered.

"As a community, we are facing a rapidly worsening epidemic of a severe disease without knowing how to prevent it", they write.

"It is only when we are armed with this critical knowledge that we can hope to halt the devastating impact of this disease through the design and implementation of effective public health interventions".