After years of steady growth in case numbers, this year cases seem to have reached a plateau. There have been fewer cases this year (240) than at the same time last year (299).
That’s been largely driven by a steep drop in infections in the Morninton Peninsula. The health department has only been notified of 74 cases so far this year, down from 148 in 2018.
Despite the new alarm, buruli cases remain sporadic in Greater Geelong, with only 17 cases recorded this year, after 23 were recorded last year.
The gruesome open sores are caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium ulcerans, which is thought to be spread by mosquitoes and possums and rots tissue. The bacteria releases toxins that melt the fat under the skin.
If left untreated, they can cause extreme pain as the bacteria chews through skin and capillaries, all the while releasing a toxin that suppresses the immune system and leads to gangrene.
Victims will often notice only a small wound on the surface of the skin while a huge fluid-filled blister forms below. Major surgery is often required to cut the blisters out.
Anyone living in Geelong with a wound that does not seem to be healing normally is urged to see a doctor, a health department spokesman said.
What is most baffling to scientists is that Victoria is the only non-tropical part of the world where the ulcer is detected. Much smaller numbers of cases are recorded in Far North Queensland.
How to avoid the Buruli ulcer:
- Wear covering clothing that reduces contact with biting insects
- Use insect repellent on exposed skin
- Clean and cover cuts and abrasions
- Remain aware if you live in or visit areas where the ulcer is more common, such as the Mornington and Bellarine peninsulas
- Ask your doctor about the ulcer if you think you have one – there is a fast and accurate diagnostic test available
Liam is The Age and Sydney Morning Herald’s science reporter