Health officials are warning that cases of Buruli ulcer, a skin disease caused by bacteria that leads to a breakdown of tissue, have surged by 400 percent in the last four years in Victoria. In 2017, 275 new infections were recorded, a 51 percent increase in the number of cases compared to 2016. Left untreated, the disease causes ulcers that can lead to permanent disfigurement or disability.
Buruli ulcer is typically found in tropical areas and health officials have not yet determined why it has emerged in the temperate climate of Victoria. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cases of Buruli ulcer have been on the rise in Australia since 2013.
The skin disease is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium ulcerans. Although the first symptoms of the disease are generally painless swelling of the affected area, the bacteria emits toxins that destroy skin cells, small blood vessels, and the fat under the skin. This leads to ulcers and ultimately skin loss. Buruli ulcer can be treated with antibiotics. The illness’s mode of transmission is currently unknown.
Although it is currently unknown how Buruli ulcer spreads, basic rules of sanitation should be followed to minimize the risk of contracting the illness (wash hands after being outside and disinfect surfaces frequently). Individuals developing symptoms of the disease should seek immediate medical attention.