The Victoria Department of Health in southern Australia in a health advisory earlier this month is reporting cases of Buruli ulcer are increasing. There have been 266 cases notified so far in 2022 compared to the same time in 2021 (227 cases), 2020 (165 cases) and 2019 (247 cases).
Buruli ulcer is a skin infection caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium ulcerans (M. ulcerans). Patients usually develop a painless lump or wound (known as a nodule or papule) which can initially be mistaken for an insect bite. Over time the lesion can slowly progress to develop into a destructive skin ulcer.
It is also known as Bairnsdale ulcer.
There are many areas where the disease has been found. These include:
- Mornington peninsula region
- Bellarine peninsula region
- Westernport region
- Frankston/Langwarrin region
- South Eastern Bayside suburbs
- East Gippsland
- Phillip Island (particularly Cowes), although much less common now
- Aireys Inlet and the Surf Coast
- Several suburbs of Greater Geelong, in particular Belmont, Highton, Newtown, Wandana Heights, Grovedale and Marshall
- Inner Melbourne suburbs of Essendon, Moonee Ponds, Brunswick West, Pascoe Vale South and Strathmore
The disease is not transmissible from person to person. While there is no clear evidence of transmission from possums directly to humans, the bacteria that causes the ulcer is found in possum excrement. Local research has found both mosquitoes and possums play a role in disease transmission in Victoria.
Household members of people with Buruli ulcer should self-monitor for any non-healing skin lesions and seek early medical assessment as they may have been exposed to the same environmental source.
Everyone is susceptible to infection. Disease can occur at any age, but Buruli ulcer notifications are highest in people aged 60 years and above in Victoria. The risk of contracting Buruli ulcer, however, is still considered low.
When recognized early, diagnostic testing is straightforward. If guidelines are followed, prompt treatment can significantly reduce skin loss and tissue damage, as well as lead to more simplified treatment.