Medical journal demands 'urgent' response to epidemic of flesh-eating ulcer

Mycobacterium ulcerans is the “nasty and clever” bug that causes the Buruli ulcer

The disease "causes severe destructive lesions of skin and soft tissue", the doctors write, causing painful large wounds, mostly on the arms and legs, that can spread all the way down into bone.

"The time to act is now, and we advocate for local, regional and national governments to urgently commit to funding the research needed to stop Buruli ulcer".

Scientists in Australia have voiced concern about an apparent outbreak of Buruli ulcer, a flesh-eating disease that usually occurs in West and central Africa.

In 2016, there were 182 new cases reported, a spike of 72%. "Yet, cases reported until November 11, 2017 have further increased by 51 per cent compared with the same period in 2016".

Infections have also become more severe and spread to new areas.

The team emphasizes that "efforts to control the disease have been severely hampered because the environmental reservoir and mode of transmission to humans remain unknown".

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"It is hard to prevent a disease when it is not known how infection is acquired", lead author and associate professor Daniel O'Brien, an infectious diseases consultant, wrote.

"Our hypothesis is really that this is a disease of possums", said Paul Johnson, a Victoria-based Buruli ulcer expert, The Guardian reported. The bacterium is part of the same family of organisms that cause leprosy and tuberculosis, according to the World Health Organization. The condition is most common in regions with tropical, subtropical and temperate climates. Different combinations of antibiotics are given to the patient to have it for 8 weeks.

The demographic affects varies considerable across affected regions, with an estimated 48% of those affected in Africa under the age of 15, while just 10% affected are under that age in Australia.

Local cases of Buruli ulcer, a skin disease most commonly found in Africa, have surged by 400% in the last four years, experts say. "These antibiotics have severe side effects in up to one-quarter of patients, and many people also require reparative plastic surgery, sometimes with prolonged hospital admissions", O'Brien explained.

They are also baffled as to why most of the Australian infections have been in the state of Victoria, while New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania have been mostly spared.

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