Flesh-eating ulcer spreads further in North Melbourne

A mysterious flesh-eating disease has spread to more parts of Melbourne, with several cases identified in Pascoe Vale South and Strathmore in the north of the city.

Victoria’s deputy director of communicable disease health, Associate Professor Deborah Friedman, said the risk of Buruli ulcer in these suburbs was considered low, although they were now recognized as potential risk areas.

Buruli ulcer has long been associated with coastal Victoria, but was first identified inland from Melbourne, in Essendon, Moonee Ponds and Brunswick West, early last year.

Friedman said a genetic analysis of bacteria isolated from the new cases suggested a “common source of infection in the area” with the cases in 2021.

Charging

The potential source has not been established, although the bacteria was isolated from the feces of a local possum, the Health Department said.

Scientists have said that ringtail and brushtail possums are likely a key carrier, with mosquitoes likely playing a role in transport. Mycobacterium ulceransthe bacterium that causes the ulcer, from marsupials to humans.

In a health advisory to health professionals and residents of Pascoe Vale South and Strathmore, Friedman said there was growing evidence that mosquitoes played a role in transmission, so reducing mosquito breeding sites and avoiding mosquito bites were important prevention measures.

“Early diagnosis is critical to prevent skin and tissue loss,” he said. A lesion can be mistaken for an insect bite and, over time, can develop into a destructive skin ulcer known as a Buruli or Bairnsdale ulcer.

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