A flesh-eating disease known as the Buruli ulcer, which is usually found in West and Central Africa, has been increasing at an alarming rate in Australia over the past two years, especially in the state of Victoria.
A report published Tuesday in the Medical Journal of Australia describes the disease as a “worsening epidemic, defined by cases rapidly increasing in number, becoming more severe in nature and occuring in new geographic areas.”
The study also reveals that there were 183 new cases of the disease reported in 2016, the highest number of cases ever reported in Australia’s history. In addition, the number of cases reported in the first 11 months of 2017 (236) is 51 percent greater than the number of cases reported in the same period in 2016 (156).
“Despite being recognised in Victoria since 1948, efforts to control the disease have been severely hampered because the environmental reservoir and mode of transmission to humans remain unknown. It is difficult to prevent a disease when it is not known how infection is acquired,” the study researchers, from Australia’s Geelong Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, wrote in the report.
Most cases of the disease in Africa are caused by exposure to people living near marshes and other aquatic environments. In Australia, on the other hand, cases are spread through mosquitoes and possums, according to Andres Garchitorena, researcher at the Institute of Research and Development in France and an expert on Buruli ulcers who was not involved in the study.
“In Australia, it seems more to be a terrestrial transmission whereas in Africa, for example, the strain is very different and is mostly transmitted through aquatic ecosystems,” said Garchitorena, complex.com reported.
Medical professionals are unsure why cases are increasing at an alarming rate in Australia.
“One possibility is maybe there’s some resistance to the antibiotics that they are using,” Garchitorena added.
Buruli ulcer is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium ulcerans, which eventually destroys the tissue under the skin. According to the World Health Organization, the bacterium is part of the same family of organisms causing diseases like leprosy and tuberculosis.
“The way it creates the ulcers is that when it’s inside your skin, it multiplies and it produces a toxin,” Garchitorena said. “It mostly affects the fatty tissue. It starts generally with a small nodule, but over time, it opens up and creates an ulcer.