Buruli ulcer increases in 2022: Victoria Health issues advisory

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The Victorian Department of Health in South Australia reported in a health advisory earlier this month an increase in cases of Buruli ulcer. There have been 266 cases reported so far in 2022 compared to the same period in 2021 (227 cases), 2020 (165 cases) and 2019 (247 cases).

Buruli ulcer/CDC

Buruli ulcer is a skin infection caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium ulcerans (M. ulcers). Patients usually present with a painless lump or sore (known as a nodule or papule) which can initially be mistaken for an insect bite. Over time the lesion can slowly progress into a destructive skin ulcer.

It is also known as a Bairnsdale ulcer.

There are many areas where the disease has been detected. These include:

  • Mornington Peninsula area
  • Bellarine Peninsula region
  • Westernport area
  • Frankston/Langwarin area
  • suburbs southeast of Bayside
  • East Gippsland
  • Phillip Island (especially Cowes), although less common now
  • Aireys Inlet and the surf coast
  • Many of the larger suburbs of Geelong, notably Belmont, Highton, Newtown, Indiana Heights, Grovedale and Marshall
  • Melbourne’s inner suburbs of Essendon, Moonee Ponds, Brunswick West, Pascoe Vale South and Strathmore

The disease is not transmitted from person to person. Although there is no clear evidence of transmission from opossums directly to humans, the bacteria that cause canker sores are found in opossum droppings. Local research has found that mosquitoes and possums play a role in disease transmission in Victoria.

Family members with Buruli ulcer should self-monitor for any non-healing skin lesions and seek early medical evaluation because they may have been exposed to the same environmental source.

Everyone is susceptible. The disease can occur at any age, but Buruli ulcer notifications are higher in people aged 60 and over in Victoria. However, the risk of developing a Buruli ulcer remains low.

When recognized early, diagnostic testing is straightforward. If the directions are followed, prompt treatment can greatly reduce skin loss and tissue damage, as well as lead to a simpler treatment.

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