A bacteria that causes an illness called the Buruli ulcer is spreading like wildfire notably in Australia. This illness causes severe cuts and scars on infected body parts as the bacteria eats the flesh.
A number of recent cases
The Buruli ulcer has been found in 33 countries in Africa, America, Asia and the Pacific with 2,206 cases reported in 2017 in comparison to 1,920 cases in 2016. In Australia, as well as in Nigeria, the number of infections seem to have increased with more severe cases being registered which have unfortunately not been explained yet. Australia has seen a four times increase in cases over the course of four years in some regions like the state of Victoria. In this region there were 330 more cases registered in 2018. Local authorities have stated that it is not just the disease that is spreading quickly but that is becoming more aggressive.
However there are variations in the bacterial infection depending on the country and the context. For example in Africa, the illness affects in 48% of the cases children under the age of 15. Whereas in Australia the age bracket only represent 10% of the cases.
An insidious disease
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“Buruli ulcer (BU), or Mycobacterium ulcerans disease, is a severe bacterial infection that affects the skin, soft tissues and the bones. The infection causes permanent disfigurement and disability and belongs to the same family of organisms that cause tuberculosis and leprosy,” explains the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The bacteria can affect the lower limbs (55% cases), upper limbs (35%) and other limbs (10%). These infected areas are then categorised. Category 1 involves one small wound and represents 32% of the cases. Category 2 is an ulcerous wound or a significant wound which represents 35% of cases. Category 3 is the most severe case which affects a joint with wounds that have spread or are are mixed. This type of wound represents 33% of cases.
For the time being we do not know how the bacteria is transmitted to humans. Researchers are looking into the possibility of water being contaminated by opossums and koalas while other experts believe it is transmitted through mosquitoes. As the causes are unknown it is very difficult to prevent. However an early diagnosis helps to reduce the risk of serious infections and long term disability.