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What we know about the epidemic of flesh-eating bug

Photo: Epidemic of flesh-eating bug: what we know
As medical experts warn urgent funding is needed to tackle a worsening epidemic of a flesh-eating infection in Victoria, here is a look at the Buruli ulcer.

WHAT IS A BURULI ULCER?

* It's a skin infection caused by a bacteria known as Mycobacterium ulcerans.

* The organism belongs to the family of bacteria that causes tuberculosis and leprosy.

* It typically causes skin ulcers, otherwise known as Buruli ulcer.

* It is also known as Bairnsdale or Daintree ulcer.

* It can affect the bone and can lead to permanent disfigurement and long-term disability.

WHERE DOES IT OCCUR?

* According to WHO, at least 33 countries, including Australia, with tropical, subtropical and temperate climates have reported Buruli ulcer, but mainly in west and central Africa.
WHO IS AFFECTED?

* About 2000 cases are reported worldwide each year.

* All age groups, including young children, can be infected.

HOW IS IT TRANSMITTED?

* The exact method remains unclear, but the disease is often associated with wetlands, especially stagnant water.

* Evidence indicates it can not be transmitted from person to person.

* Insects, such as mosquitoes, have been shown to contain the bacteria and they may play a role in transmission.

* Use of repellent and mosquito nets have been linked to a reduction in occurrence.

WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?

* The first sign of Buruli ulcer is usually a painless, non-tender blister-like nodule on the skin, often thought to be an insect bite.

* A lesion may occur anywhere on the body but is most common on the limbs.

* After one to two months, the nodule may begin to erode, forming a characteristic ulcer.

HOW IS IT TREATED?

* In Australia and Japan, most lesions are detected early and diagnosed as a Category 1.

* Treatment involves a combination of antibiotics, depending on the patient.

* Many sufferers require plastic surgery.

(Source: Health Victoria, World Health Organisation, Medical Journal of Australia)

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